Newmarket Puts Plan for All-Weather Track on Hold

Newmarket, one of Great Britain's premier racecourses, has been forced to abandon plans, at least for a year, for the construction of an all-weather (dirt) track after it was offered only three fixtures for 2005 by the British Horseracing Board's Fixture Allocation Group.

Newmarket hopes to secure the necessary fixtures for 2006 but is bewildered by BHB policy. It was given the go-ahead by racing's ruling body for the £6-million project earlier this year.

Said Lisa Hancock, managing director at Newmarket: "The Newmarket executive is exceptionally disappointed by FAG's decision on our application for all-weather fixtures in 2005. Of the 38 national fixtures that could be applied for, only three have been allocated to Newmarket.

"Clearly FAG and the BHB do not want racing on an artificial surface at Newmarket in 2005. We received the go-ahead for our application to build a new course from the BHB, via its New Racecourse Committee, in the spring following the granting of planning permission in February. Now, after a great deal of time and £300,000 in expenditure, the same organization is failing to back us.

"It would have saved us a huge amount of effort and cost if we had been told at the outset by the BHB not to apply, and the reasons for not doing so."

Hancock said Newmarket expects a "level playing field" for 2006, when there are expected to be 300 new fixtures.

Richard Johnston, managing director of Newmarket's parent company, Racecourse Holdings Trust, said the FAG process was skewed toward Arena Leisure, another racecourse group that has a monopoly on all-weather racing at Lingfield, Southwell, and Wolverhampton. "We are now likely to see Newmarket and Kempton Park both competing for all weather track fixtures for 2006," he said.

Controversially, BHB chairman Peter Savill announced at the annual general meeting earlier in June that new all-weather tracks at existing racecourses would not get preference when it comes to fixtures, though completely new courses will receive preference.