Essex racing contract for Arena

ARENA Leisure, the operator of leading racecourses including Doncaster, the home of the St Leger, has signed a contract to manage racing at the new Great Leighs racecourse near Chelmsford.

ARENA Leisure, the operator of leading racecourses including Doncaster, the home of the St Leger, has signed a contract to manage racing at the new Great Leighs racecourse near Chelmsford.

Arena said yesterday it had signed an initial one-year contract to oversee the management of racing operations at the Essex site - the country's first new racecourse for 80 years - and would be assisting in preparing the course for its opening fixture, now due on March 18.

The floodlit all-weather track, which is expected to host about 80 days racing throughout the year, will complement Arena's existing all-weather operations at Wolverhampton - which was also the UK's first floodlit track - and Southwell, in Nottinghamshire.

“This arrangement reflects Arena's status as the clear market leader in all weather racing in the UK and is expected to net the group a profit of around £250,000,” the group said.

“Arena will work alongside the commercial and marketing teams already in place at the course, with Great Leighs' management retaining responsibility for all commercial arrangements and on-going developments.”

Besides Doncaster, Wolverhampton and Southwell, Arena also operates the Royal Windsor, Lingfield Park, Folkstone and Worcester courses, accounting for around one quarter of the UK's annual horseracing fixtures.

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News of the Great Leighs contract was given by Arena in a trading update yesterday in which the group said it remained on track to meet its £6million profit target

In July, Arena described the target - a 6.5% rise on 2006 - as “more difficult” following the cancellation of fixtures at Worcester and Windsor and the closure of its flooded all-weather track at Southwell,.

However, Arena said yesterday it still expected profits in the region of £6 million after a busy Christmas period, while it also negotiated a £6.6 million settlement with insurers to cover Southwell's closure until mid-December.

Arena was also lifted by higher-than-expected attendances at a revamped Doncaster racecourse for last September”s St Leger Festival, which Arena said “bodes well for the future”.

Arena is also planning major expansion at its Wolverhampton course, including a hotel, conference centre and the UK's first “racino” - a casino at a racetrack - which is waiting for Government approval.

Lingfield Park is also set for redevelopment, but Arena said it had deferred plans for a revamp of Windsor due to the extent of work already underway.

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