Hereford Racecourse

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Sunday, 16 December 2012, was a sad day for Hereford Racecourse. Unable to resolve their lease dispute with the local council, owners Arena Racing Company (ARC) followed through on their decision to close the racecourse, bringing its 241-year history of racing to an end. ARC had previously indicated that the Hereford business was not financially viable.

“The whole thing is an absolute tragedy and makes no sense,” said trainer Richard Lee, whose involvement with Hereford spanned almost 60 years. “`There is a lot of bad feeling over the way ARC have handled this. It’s obvious they couldn`t care less about the place. Being very clinical, all they have done is strip the fixtures and transfer them elsewhere.”

Indeed, all of Hereford’s key races, and even those remaining ones of even vague importance, were transferred elsewhere ahead if the closing day. Investment in maintaining the venue’s facilities was terminated; even the building that housed the bar that served the owners and trainers was described as having turned into a “a fairly dilapidated shack.”

Hard to Let Go of the Past

Located in the Cathedral city of Hereford, Herefordshire, the track is a square-shaped, right-handed circuit that extends over a distance of 1½ miles, used primarily for National Hunt events. It was first opened for racing in 1771 and was greatly modernised in the 1960s, including the installation of a photo-finish camera in 1966.

Over time the annual schedule had grown to 14 fixtures, including such standout features as Ladies Day in June and the Beer and Cider Raceday in November. The venue also began hosting a pair of Arab race days and a Harness race fixture, even as the future of thoroughbred racing here was being discussed.

Trainers Evan Williams and Jonjo O’Neill have done well at Hereford, along with jockeys A.P. McCoy and Richard Johnson. In fact, on the last day of racing, Johnson gained a victory riding Sammys Gone and afterwards remarked, “I was 16 when I first rode here, so it’s very sad. I know a lot of people have said they are keen on trying to do something to keep it open, so I really hope they do.”

Although 2,300 race fans showed up to see the final thoroughbreds on the track, average attendances had fallen below 1,500 and the owners decided they’d had enough of low returns. In 2013, the only remaining commitments were for hosting a handful of Arabian Racedays—on Sunday 23 June, Saturday 6 July, Saturday 3 August and Saturday 28 September. Otherwise,

Hope for the Future

Oddly enough, 17 years still remain on the current lease. Since the termination of National Hunt racing, ARC spokesman Tony Kelly has remarked, “We have held constructive discussions with the council about a new long-term lease but there remains a long way to go. We also remain open and willing to hold discussions with a third party if we have an approach.”

ARC’s assistant racing director Jim Allen agrees, adding, “Any racecourse or body can come and talk to us about it. We’d like to see racing continue at Hereford at some point in the future and we’ll do what we can to make that happen.”

Local auctioneer John Williams, who has served as the clerk of the course for 30 years, has said he believes a consortium of owners, trainers and fans working behind the scenes might be able to come up with a rescue plan. “We could have something in place by 2015 if we get it on sensible terms,” he speculated. The lynchpin of any move forward might be to secure regular income from media rights, which are estimated to be worth as much as £750,000 a year.

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