All-weather track shelved at Newmarket

NEWMARKET'S plans for a £6 million all-weather horseracing track have been shelved after the course was allocated just three fixtures for an entire year.

NEWMARKET'S plans for a £6 million all-weather horseracing track have been shelved after the course was allocated just three fixtures for an entire year.

Bosses at Newmarket Racecourse had been on tenterhooks for weeks waiting an announcement from racing's governing body about how many race meetings would be held at the track.

And the EADT reported two weeks ago that work which had been due to begin on the track's construction alongside the famous Rowley Mile Course had been delayed until the fixtures for 2005 were announced by the British Horseracing Board's (BHB) Fixture Allocation Group (FAG).

But yesterday it was confirmed that the BHB had given the course just three fixtures from the 38 available, making the scheme, on which £300,000 has already been spent financially unviable.

A disgusted Newmarket Racecourses chairman Peter Player said: "It almost beggars belief. The BHB gave us the green light by approving our all-weather track as a new course for 2005, yet has only allocated us three fixtures. How can anyone be expected to invest £6 million on that basis?

"All the detailed plans had been drawn up and all the research into new surfaces had been done. We were ready to start construction at a moment's notice.

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"It is incredibly disappointing. In these days of escalating costs coupled with the issues surrounding stable staff that were highlighted last week, it seems to me that with such a large housing population on Newmarket's doorstep, our proposed all-weather track represented an opportunity like no other."

Newmarket managing director Lisa Hancock said that racecourse chiefs were "exceptionally disappointed" and added: "Clearly FAG and the BHB do not want racing on an artificial surface at Newmarket in 2005."

The BHB approved the construction of the track in May, following the granting of planning permission in February by Forest Heath District Council this year.

"Now after a great deal of time and £300,000 in expenditure, the same organisation 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," said Mrs Hancock.

She said the BHB had been informed that Newmarket did not wish to pursue the three fixtures and would not be building the track for 2005, but would try again next year to establish more fixtures for 2005.

Richard Johnson of the Racecourse Holdings Trust(RHT), Newmarket Racecourse's parent company, said that it now looked likely that Newmarket would next year have to compete with Kempton Park, which it also owns, in a bid for adequate fixtures.

A senior racing industry insider had told the EADT that the RHT was only using Newmarket as a back up plan in case its main scheme for all-weather racing at Kempton failed, but a spokesman for RHT denied this was the case.

The British Horseracing Board expects to add a further 160 fixtures to the racing calendar in 2006.

Nobody from the BHB was available for comment.

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