Race-goers set Newmarket record

MORE people than ever before went to the races in Suffolk last year, with attendance smashing the quarter-million barrier.The record figures, released yesterday , show that 252,430 people visited Newmarket Racecourses in 2003 - a 16% increase since 2000.

MORE people than ever before went to the races in Suffolk last year, with attendance smashing the quarter-million barrier.

The record figures, released yesterday , show that 252,430 people visited Newmarket Racecourses in 2003 - a 16% increase since 2000.

Sponsorship revenue, which has been static for the past four years, has also risen and is set to reach at least £1.61 million, which is up by £210,000.

Last night officials in the town pledged to build on the racecourses' success to boost the local economy and bring tangible benefits to residents.


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Newmarket managing director Lisa Hancock said at yesterday's press conference: "After fantastic attendance figures last season, the influx of so many major new sponsors has put everyone at Newmarket in buoyant mood ahead of the start of our new season next Tuesday.

"We are all looking forward to 37 great race days at the Home of Racing over the coming months. All the uncertainties over media rights negotiations cannot dent our sense of optimism."

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Ms Hancock predicted the upper limit of 2,500 annual memberships would almost certainly be sold by the end of this month.

She added: "After the Millennium Stand was first opened the number fell quite dramatically by around 30%. We have now more than made up for that."

Last night, Forest Heath district councillor George Lambton, who represents the Severals ward and lives in Newmarket, welcomed the success

He said: "I am delighted that the racecourse is managing to increase all their attendance figures as that brings more business and helps the economy of the town.

"We have never done a study on the benefits to the town's economy but it helps hotels and the general tourism trade."

He said the council would be developing the Home of Horse Racing initiative to ensure the racecourse is firmly connected to the town.

"We will maximise that by increasing the number of attractions on offer in the town so that people who come horse racing can do a lot of things.

"There will be people movers so that when they come horse racing they can take part in other activities, such as going to the museum or shopping. It will benefit the town in a more direct way."

At yesterday's press conference, it was announced Newmarket's prize money is scheduled to increase by over £325,000 this year to a record £6,875,000.

Ms Hancock also gave an update on the proposed all-weather track at Newmarket, with redevelopment work set to start as soon as possible, pending approval and allocation of fixtures from the British Horseracing Board at their next board meeting on April 19.

With the exception of the three weeks leading up to the course's principal fixtures, Newmarket have indicated their willingness to stage all-weather meetings throughout the year, although they are hoping to concentrate on offering opportunities during November and December.

Provided the BHB are able to allocate the fixtures Newmarket officials anticipate, then redevelopment work on the track would start as soon as possible, with racing ready to take place from early next year.

The new Polytrack course would run parallel to the turf course for a mile-and-a-quarter, with the construction of a round course being prevented due to English Nature designating the surrounding grasslands a 'site of special scientific interest'.

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