O’Meara and more feel the ‘Musselburgh draw’

Nicky HendersonA two day meet continues today at Musselburgh, with the usual suspects hoping for more success at the Scottish track. O’Meara was among the winners yesterday, also saddling a second and a third.

Bahamian Desert took the Ray Hawthorne Memorial Handicap, hardly a major prize for the trainer, but again a familiar story of a horse improving out of sight under the guidance of one of the most talented handlers around. Rated just 53 in June, the son of Bahamian Bounty is now winning races off a mark of 75.

Musselburgh Racecourse is understandably popular with Northern trainers attracting their regulars from Scotland, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Cumbria. The track was known as Edinburgh Racecourse until the 1990’s. Situated on the eastern side of the town, it is less than a mile from the A1 and two miles from the Edinburgh City Bypass.

The first recorded races in Musselburgh took place in the late 1700’s. Between 1789 and 1816, meetings were held on the sands at Leith on the outskirts of Edinburgh, now a tourist spot and home to the Queen’s Royal Yacht Britannia. In 1816 racing returned permanently to Musselburgh, with the town council funding and laying a new track.

In the 1950’s crowd attendances boomed. Musselburgh often attracted in excess of 15,000 racing enthusiasts. In 1963, the Government made betting shops legal; people were now able to have a bet without travelling to the races. Attendances went into rapid decline and some racecourses went bankrupt, including Lanark and Bogside in Scotland.

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In the 1980s, the future for Musselburgh Racecourse looked bleak. However in 1987 live screening at courses, with feeds to the betting shops gave the industry a huge shot in the arm. Without this revenue the likes of Musselburgh would not be here today.

Going into the 90’s the racecourse was still losing money and its prospects remained precarious. In 1991, the East Lothian Council took over the management from Lothian Racing Syndicate Limited and soon set about turning things around; breaking even within a year. In 1994, the Council and the Lothian’s Racing Syndicate created the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee to run the racecourse, a partnership that still exists today.

From 1995 onwards, a £7.5 million refurbishment plan was put in place. Development began with a new prestigious hospitality stand (The Queen’s Stand), the refurbishment of the Edwardian Grandstand and the building of the Links Pavilion. Facilities for jockeys, ground staff and trainers have been greatly enhanced and extensive landscaping and improvements to the track itself has taken place.

Since 1999, attendances have rocketed from 38,000 to over 70,000 per annum with sponsorship, corporate hospitality and prize money more than doubled. Musselburgh Racecourse is now a thriving enterprise and one of the top sporting venues in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

In 2012 more investment took place with innovations around the racecourse to enhance the visitor experience, including £10,000 in directional and informative signage, the upgrading of toilets and redesigning of the race programme. Development of the picnic lawn including a 'kids zone' in the form of a children's party paddock or marquee, ensures that the course attracts families on race days. Musselburgh are keen to re-invest profits back into racecourse, continually improving the experience for all, along with attracting owners and trainers with greater prize money.

The dual purpose track also benefits from favourable weather conditions. Good ground is a common feature at Musselburgh which often draws prominent trainers from the South, especially during the winter Jumps season. Nicky Henderson is one such trainer who has taken to sending quality horses north in search of favourable racing conditions. The Scottish Sprint Cup, Musselburgh Gold Cup and the John Smith's Scottish County Hurdle are the headline events during a packed season.

Today the course welcomes O’Meara, Fahey and Johnston among others. Decent ground and a friendly Scottish welcome are guaranteed.

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