Olympic hopes for Essex racecourse

THE owner of Britain's first new racecourse in 75 years has spoken of his hopes for it to form part of the Olympic bid in 2012. John Holmes spoke about his vision as he discussed the massive overhaul planned for the 165-acre Essex County Showground site at Great Leighs between Chelmsford and Braintree.

THE owner of Britain's first new racecourse in 75 years has spoken of his hopes for it to form part of the Olympic bid in 2012.

John Holmes spoke about his vision as he discussed the massive overhaul planned for the 165-acre Essex County Showground site at Great Leighs between Chelmsford and Braintree.

The site will shortly undergo a £40million redevelopment to transform it into a world-class all-weather track, able to host a virtually uninterrupted programme of racing throughout the year.

If all goes to plan, Great Leighs will open towards the end of 2004.


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Mr Holmes confirmed that Great Leighs has been nominated as a proposed venue for equestrian competition as part of London's bid to stage the 2012 Olympics.

In a transatlantic precedent, Santa Anita in Arcadia, California, the host for this year's Breeders' Cup meeting, was used for the same purpose during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

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Mr Holmes said: "When I set out to develop Great Leighs I was hoping to make a centre of excellence for all equestrian sports.

"I am on the executive board of the British Show Jumping Association and a founder member of British Dressage, so I am very much a supporter of our British Olympic disciplines."

Communications director Pippa Cuckson said: "We are up against other venues, we have put ourselves forward to put in formal representations.

"It is very early days and we have told the British Equestrian Federation, who will be liasing with BIDCO, that they can out us forward, but we expect there will be other submissions," she said.

It is felt the racecourse will have significant advantages as a venue because the purpose-built facilities will comply with the International Olympic Committee criteria favouring venues which are reusable after the games.

Other strengths of the course could be improved transport links by 2012 and easy connections to Stansted airport thanks to the Braintree by-pass which will be completed in 2004.

Mr Holmes also spoke of his plans for bringing more racing to the region.

With the Office of Fair Trading investigation into the allocation and control of racing's fixtures still in a delicate situation, nobody is entirely certain exactly how much racing there will be when Great Leighs holds its first fixtures at the end of 2004.

What has already been well-publicised is that Great Leighs will stage at least some of the British Horseracing Board's new 'Regional Racing' fixtures - contests designed to satisfy betting shop demand and the need for more opportunities for moderate horses.

As well as this Holmes insisted that there will be the facilities available for the highest level of competition to take place.

"There are very much two parts to the racing I want to bring to Great Leighs," he said. The LBO (licensed betting office) does need a British product with which it is not always being serviced at present. Turnover on British racing is starting to diminish and we would like to help address that.

"But the second part is that we are spending tens of millions of pounds on building a racecourse, a hybrid of an American course if you like, with a great catchment area that has been untapped before.

Mr Holmes is realistic that not all of what will be on offer at Great Leighs will appeal to the racing purist. But he is serious about creating facilities which will offer something to all racegoers.

"I'm not under any illusions - a lot of what we do will be to provide 'gaming product'," he said.

"But we will work hard to make the best of what we have got. We have some experienced people running our in-house television studio and we will be using an increased number of cameras to make it as visually exciting as possible.

"It won't be gimmicky, but I think that people bet on pictures and you only have to look at what having more cameras has done to Premiership football to realise why we are thinking along those lines.

"I am excited by what we are doing. We will start profiling and moving some soil in the next few days. Things are moving fast."

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