Brendan Barber and the TUC should sign up Charlie Mann quickly. Just weeks after he organised a trainer boycott of a race at Northern Racing and Arena Leisure Group run Worcester, he took on racing’s largest racecourse owners again, this time over their decision to close Hereford and Folkestone at the end of this year.
He said, “I think they are wrong to close the tracks and it certainly isn’t going to help the relationship between the group and trainers. It is a short sighted decision and they haven’t done themselves any favours.”
The announcement of the closure seemed to take everyone by surprise. It came just three months after Arena Leisure completed their takeover of Northern Racing. It is quite understandable that they should carry out a review of the combined portfolio, but it would also be reasonable to expect them to make some attempt to give any racetracks identified as unviable the opportunity to improve their profitability. What’s so disappointing is that Arena has simply decided to cut them adrift and close them. It almost seems that the company expanded its portfolio ready to prune at the earliest opportunity.
Herefordshire Council, which leases the track to Arena/Northern were certainly unprepared by the decision. A statement put out on Friday afternoon said, “Herefordshire Council deeply regrets the decision that Arena Leisure and Northern Racing has taken to close Hereford racecourse. At midday representatives came to see us to inform us of their decision to close. This is the first we heard that they were going to take this decision. The lease between the council and the racecourse has a further 17 years to run and the council remains willing to discuss options with the company for the continuation of racing in Hereford.”
What will have irked the Council most was that they would have expected the acquisition of Hereford by Arena earlier in the year to spark new investment in the track, not to sound the death knell.
Perhaps nobody has told the people at Folkestone yet. The racecourse website still says, “It’s an exciting time to join the team at Folkestone racecourse.” No, there’s nothing exciting about starting a job that’s going to end in a few months’ time.
With the exception of the short-lived Great Leighs all weather track, the closures will be the first in Britain for over 30 years, with Stockton having been the last to shut its doors in June 1981. They will bring the number of English counties without a racetrack up to 17, as after Sunday 16 December there will be no more racing in Herefordshire, and after Tuesday 18 December, none in Kent.