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Towcester greyound plans

How Towcester will look. A lot of hard work is required, this starts in April

Towcester is to make prize-money a priority

CHRIS PAGE, Towcester’s racing manager-in-waiting, has said the track intends to pay top level prize-money following Monday’s official launch of the project to build a greyhound track at the horseracing course.

“We will be conscious of not doing a Coventry and having to cut back having set an unreasonable level initially,” said Page, “but eight-runner racing will involve a significant premium. I’m working on that now and more details will be available for owners and trainers at the open day proposed for them. The open day will probably be on a horseracing one either in late April, or in May.”

He said Towcester has taken on board comments from owners and trainers. “We will be tying payments to a set ratio of tote/entry and bookmaker turnover, so the more attendance/tote/betting turnover rises, the more will come back to those who are behind the project.”

George Irvine, managing director of SIS Betting, also signalled yesterday that his company is looking to overseas markets in its support for the greyhound project.

“We signed a long-term rights deal because we wanted to help them get the show on the road,” he said. “There is a market internationally for greyhound racing – it’s growing because gambling in many countries has been illegal for too long, but it’s being legalised and punters are getting involved for the first time. Towcester’s eight-dog racing will further broaden the appeal abroad.”

He says there has been a massive investment made in developing these international markets. “Money has started to come back, and Bags have invested it in various events, including the Bags/SIS Track Championship and the deal to get greyhounds back onto Sky.

With regard to overseas rights as things stand, Bags and Fund chairman Tom Kelly confirmed that all money earned by Bags from a partnership deal with SIS in selling racing overseas was put back into greyhound racing.

“We started initially with the Bags/SIS 500 series, then had the Easter Bunny, and now operate the Track Championship, plus the Sky deal. SIS are doing the hard work, but also chipping in too. It’s a good team effort.”

Page said he was confident about the kennel strength likely to be available when the track does begin. “The demise of Coventry and Oxford means there is a vacuum, and it was good to hear some favourable comments from Irish breeders – along the lines that there is actually a future for the sport,” he added.

“Furthermore, and surprisingly, many trainers have told us that some of their dogs are not getting enough runs, especially better class ones. I think it will mean increased competition for runners between tracks, but that can only be healthy for the sport.”

Full story from Monday's announcement at Towcester

WORK starts on April 14 at Towcester on the construction of its eagerly awaited new greyhound track, with an anticipated end of ­October completion. If all goes well, racing will start before the end of the year. It will be the first new greyhound track to be built in the UK since ­Sittingbourne 19 years ago.

Lord Hesketh, Towcester’s chairman, on Monday said ­everything had taken longer than they had expected “but the ­benefit is that it will be worthwhile”.

He pointed to exceptional standard of facilities on hand, joking that these had been built by “a spoilt person [himself] to spoil people”.

He said he was “thrilled” by the opportunity, and described the cost effectiveness of using existing facilities and cabling.

Martin White, chairman of Gobata, replied on behalf of the sport and thanked Hesketh for also making a reference to ­looking after owners and trainers. He said since losing White City, the sport had lost pride and ­passion.

“We lost our home, we lost viability and vision," he said. "Dreams of glory have never been the same . . . until now. With your foresight [Lord Hesketh] you’re about to give us a flagship to be proud of."

The confirmation, coming after the closure of Coventry at the end of last month and uncertainty surrounding the long-term future of Wimbledon, is a fillip for the sport and has been anticipated for some two years since planning permission was initially secured.

There have been a series of internal headaches and issues since, the biggest problem proving the refusal of the Council to allow them to further excavate a man-made lake already within the racecourse, and so use that soil to build up the land needed for the new track. This soil will now be brought in.

The £1.5m scheme involves a new circuit inside the existing racecourse – in the style of Dundalk. The inside is to be levelled to avoid Towcester’s notorious uphill climb.

As part of a total £12m spend, Towcester has invested in a long-term expansion of its facilities and see greyhound racing as bringing flexibility and diversity into its existing ­business. It will offer the only dual horse and greyhound ­facility in Britain having provided National Hunt racing since 1928.

Towcester plans to stage three meetings a week over 270, 480, 655 and 850m, offering a blend of six- and eight-runner racing around a ‘state of the art’ track. All picture content will be beamed both domestically and internationally thanks to a media rights deal with SIS.

Additional facilities will see the latest large screen systems installed throughout the ­customer/hospitality areas as well as a high definition 50 square metres large screen in the track area.

Chris Page, who is to become racing manager, was formerly the Walthamstow RM. Both he and White have been closely involved in the planning.

Page said: “My assistant will be Andy Lisemore [formerly at Oxford and Coventry].”

Lisemore was on his ­honeymoon with his wife Daisy when learning of Coventry’s ­closure. He said: “On the last night there, Chris Page contacted me out of the blue with this offer. I was delighted.”

Page anticipates three tiers of trainers - “a top level with say 30-odd dogs, grade two with some 15-20 greyhounds, and then a third of five dogs designed to offer an opportunity for younger people to enter the sport. As trainers move up tiers, remumeration will rise.

“Lord Hesketh is keen to offer a route where people can start, and get away from needing one of your parents to having been a trainer, or to be rich.” He said initially it will be flat racing, but hurdling may be added.

Page added: “The eight-dog racing is core to our international offering – but we will have a ­mixture of six and eight runners. We don’t envisage eight-dog opens though.”

White added: “This all started some four years ago when Carly [Philpott] heard they were ­looking at racing up the straight there. I came here with Nick Savva, Seamus Gaughan and John Coleman, and it went on from there – and we ended up showing Kevin round a number of tracks, including Irish ones.

Savva said: “It’s a wonderful facility and I could see the Derby, one day, being staged here.”

Gaughan has worked hard on the track plans. “It’s based on Australia’s Sandown Park, it’s going to be exceptional.”

Towcester Racecourse chief executive Kevin Ackerman stated: “This is an extremely exciting time for the business as we embark on a venture which will see us significantly enhance our revenue generation and provide a number of jobs and opportunities for local people. It will also provide a unique entertainment experience to the people of Northamptonshire and the surrounding counties, as well as enabling the business to build on its highly successful horseracing product. Our overriding aim is to become Ascot of the greyhound world . . . this is the future of greyhound racing.”

COMMENT

EXCITEMENT, rather than doom and gloom, has made a welcome appearance with Towcester confirming it was pushing the go button to start work on its new track.

Towcester will even offer a path to young trainers at a time when these faced being declared an officially endangered species.

An average age of 59, and rising, looked to have only one outcome and everyone needs to ponder hard on the implications of the recent Deloitte report. Towcester has.

After the sudden closure last month of Coventry, just over 30 miles away, and down the road Milton Keynes some ten years ago, Towcester offers a genuine ray of hope.

Because high-quality facilities are already in place for horseracing, this is a way to sweat the assets more effectively.

It makes commercial sense when somewhere like Coventry never did. Martin White spoke for all trainers when he said greyhound racing had been given back our essential “dream”. Good on him and good luck to all involved.

 

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