Carlisle helps make Leicester heaven

Carlisle in Heaven at Leicester

During this wet summer there’s hardly a day gone by without racecourse inspections and meetings being called off. Setting aside the all weather fixtures, which have lived up to their name, flat racing and the summer jumps season have suffered abandonments in equal proportion.

Between the start of June and yesterday 161 flat meetings were scheduled and the weather has claimed 16 of them. Two others, at Newcastle and Catterick, had to be called off midway through the card when torrential rain made the track unsafe. Over the jumps, four of the 45 planned meetings didn’t take place.

Two courses have suffered particularly badly. In Scotland, they should have raced on four days at Perth, but have only done so once. In the Midlands, Leicester has lost four of its six meetings, and they have already called a halt to tomorrow’s card.

That means the course has lost five successive meetings, which must be a record they would rather not be burdened with. Of course that’s creating a financial problem, but course manager David Maykels says they can handle that. “Fortunately we are in a good position as a small racecourse that owns its own land and has no debts, so there will be no redundancies or cuts forced upon us. But we need racing to get going again soon. Because of the clay soil we’re always going to be vulnerable and we don’t have the land to move the rails around like Newbury or a big track.”

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All racecourses plan for the loss of some meetings, and Maykels says it has helped that they were lucky last year and didn’t lose any, which has meant that they’ve been able to roll over the insurance cover for the loss of media payments. But this year eight out of 18 meetings have gone already, and with a further 14 scheduled before the end of the year, there may be more ahead.

The course has a clay soil structure, which means it is particularly affected by short bursts of heavy rain. This week, Maykels said, “We could have raced on Monday after a dry, warm day on Sunday but then we had another 11mm and we are sodden again. We spent a fortune on improving the drainage three years ago and if we hadn’t done that it would have been even worse.”

Now the run of abandonments is starting to get people down. “It’s all becoming a bit depressing. Every week we gear ourselves up for another meeting that never happens and it’s bloody miserable. The staff become upset, the ground staff don’t get any overtime because there’s no summer watering to be done and it’s all going to cost us a lot of money.”

Yet even this cloudy landscape has a silver lining. One of the lost meetings was Ladies’ Day on 7 July, for which the track had sold 7,000 tickets. Insurance covered refunds to customers, but what happened took everyone by surprise, as Maykels explained. “Even though we offered a refund to anyone that didn’t want to come under the insurance, we still had 4,500 turn up and we offered betting at the away meetings with 11 bookmakers and the Tote, followed by the concert (ABC, Heaven 17, and Belinda Carlisle) afterwards. It turned out to be incredibly popular and all of the feedback we had was positive. And at least it reminded people that as a racecourse we are still open for business.”

Perhaps it really is true then, and “Heaven is a place on earth.” But surely it isn’t Leicester?

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