Glorious winter sunshine provided the backdrop as Hereford racecourse took its curtain call yesterday afternoon. The Thermolast Handicap Hurdle brought an end to more than 240 years of racing in the city, since Mr Dilly won a two-mile flat race in 1771.
A turn out of 77 horses failed to attract a significant increase in the attendance, which was around 2,600. Given that the course had reported advanced sales of 2,000, and there were 500 free tickets given away by a local radio station as part of its sponsorship of the opening three races, that suggests there were only 100 or so who turned up and paid on the day.
Geegeez, though, has its own moment from the last day to look back on fondly, with No No Bingo staying on gamely after the last fence to give Stat Of The Day a welcome winner.
Even as the tail lights of the last horsebox were disappearing down Roman Road, and customers exited with no date in the “next meeting” box over the turnstiles, owners ARC were throwing out a line in the hope that someone might pick it up and revive things in the future.
They have to maintain the course and fences as part of the terms of their lease, and Darren Cook, general manager at the track waved the possibility of racing returning next year. But like the aroma from a burger van on the way to a football ground, you knew that the real fell a long way short of the promise.
Cook suggested that Hereford could be used as a substitute track for ARC if fixtures at their other venues fell foul of the weather, and then immediately set out reasons why this would not happen. He said, “The racing surface will be maintained, that is a given. It is other issues such as the buildings, feeding people, toilets and building the hurdles that would need to be prepared at short notice. But we haven’t ruled it out. It is a possibility.”
He also said that a number of other parties were interested in taking over the track. The Hereford Times reported that the company that owns Chester and Bangor on Dee could be one of them, but there was no one able to confirm that.
Richard Johnson was born almost within earshot of Hereford Cathedral’s bells, and rode his first rules winner at Hereford in 1994. He rode another one yesterday, Sammy’s Gone, and summed up the prevailing mood afterwards. He said, “I was 16 when I first rode here, so it's very sad. I know a lot of people have said they are keen on trying to do something to keep it open, so I really hope they do."