We’ve followed the efforts to bring racing back to Essex at Great Leighs for some time now. Earlier this month there were indications that a bid from MC Racetracks was under serious consideration, but a final decision might not be made until close to September, when the final schedule of fixtures for 2014 is published.
That’s all gone by the board now, with the British Horseracing Authority releasing a carefully prepared statement yesterday that said nothing beyond their decision not to approve the application. The statement, issued in the name of Adam Brickell, director of Integrity, Legal and Risk, read: “The application has been given careful and thorough consideration, but the board was not in a position to approve Great Leighs’ participation in the 2014 fixture process.”
Go away and come back again next year if you want to try again. The BHA chose not to offer publicly any reasons for its decision, but they can hardly be anything to do with the physical track and facilities. A few months ago the surface received very positive reviews from a group of Newmarket trainers who took horses down there. Chelmsford City Council has played its part, granting approval for new buildings and for the installation of floodlights.
That leaves two possibilities open, finance and reputation. Earlier this week, the Racing Post said that the BHA had asked for greater detail about the financial stability of MC Racetracks, something company chairman Keith Brown was adamant they had provided. He was clearly upset when he told The Guardian, "Our application... was comprehensive, with the support of the bank, new shareholders, sponsors and other partners. We have met all the guidelines laid down by the BHA but their interpretation of those guidelines allowed them to reject our application. The whole process has been one driven by legal and accounting issues to find reasons to exclude us. To deny this great facility to racing is absolutely disgraceful. The decision will retain the duopoly of the two main racecourse groups in [all-weather racing], which is not in the interests of competition."
Is there an element of vindictiveness in the decision? Great Leighs opened to much acclaim in April 2008, only to close nine months later, in January 2009 when the controlling Essex County Showground Group Ltd went into administration. That did racing no favours at all.
There shouldn’t be any resentment about those events influencing the application from an entirely different company that has clearly invested substantial time and money in improving facilities and meeting the concerns of local residents. It seems that everybody is behind the move to bring back racing to Essex except the sport’s administrators.
Brown claims that “The real loser is racing. Great Leighs would have provided a high quality racing opportunity with a first class floodlit track, the best in the country.” Those sound like the words of a man so frustrated that he’s now ready to walk away. What a lost opportunity.