Newmarket – a museum in a time warp?

Haggas - stuck in the mud?

Haggas - stuck in the mud?

Do racing and politics go well together? Certainly there have been plenty of politicians with an active interest in racing. Winston Churchill owned many racehorses; Robin Cook wrote a weekly column on the sport for a Scottish newspaper, and Michael Howard, after retiring from political life, was Chairman of Northern Racing for four years, and now holds that post for Arena Racing Company. But what of racing people in politics?

A meeting on Monday night in Newmarket to discuss the future of the town showed why the two don’t quite work together. Ok, so local government and local issues do not have the same ring and impact as national events, but the sensitivities they raise count, and a misplaced word can soon rankle.

Around 120 people attended with racing folk contributing at least a dozen of them. Consultants for the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community were seeking views on what developments might be needed in the town, and what the most/least appropriate sites for these should be. The discussion came in the wake of the local district council rejecting plans for 1200 new homes at Hatchfield Farm last year.

William Haggas was first to take up the cudgels, saying, “Newmarket is unique, there is no place like it. People come here for the racing, we don’t need houses here; this is a horseracing town for horses.” So what are we to make of that? It’s all right if you own or rent a stable – you won’t be short of a house. But what about all the stable staff? Doesn’t Haggas think they might want their own property? Does he think yards can run on staff living in hostels for ever?

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We might had expected town councillor Jane Hood, President of the Racecourse Owners’ Association and wife of trainer John Gosden, to show a bit more sensitivity than she did in her comments. Hood said, “I am very concerned about the automatic assumption of growth. Racing is the goose that lays the golden egg in Newmarket. These plans may work in Swindon but not here.”

Now I have no particular torch for Swindon, but it isn’t exactly far removed from racing country. With Lambourn just 10 miles along the road, and Newbury within half an hour’s drive it isn’t unreasonable to think that there are racing insiders living in Swindon.

The question to be grappled with is whether it is possible for an industry with a long history and tradition to find a balance between maintaining its unique qualities and the need for development if the sport is to sustain itself and its employees hundreds of years on from when it first began. It rather sounds as though those speaking up for racing have their heads in the sand.

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