Hereford will cease permanently following their meeting on December 16PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Council challenges reasons for Hereford axe
HERERFORDSHIRE Council has accused the Northern and Arena Racing Group of failing to tell the truth when giving its reasons for announcing the imminent closure of the county's only racecourse.
Northern/Arena claimed on Friday that racing would end permanently at Hereford following the meeting on December 16 after the track failed in its efforts to secure an extension of a lease that now has just 17 years left on it.
On a day that shocked British racing, Northern/Arena revealed racing at Folkestone would also cease at the end of the year and would only resume if Shepway Council approved plans for a redevelopment that would include the reconfiguration of the track and the building of housing.
Tony Kelly, managing director of the racecourse group, claimed that "much-needed investment" at Hereford "cannot be justified in the absence of a long-term future for the business".
However, Herefordshire council leader John Jarvis said: "They are making out that we have not been able to discuss leases with them, which is not true. We want to make sure we keep horseracing in Herefordshire."
In an earlier statement, the council claimed it only learnt of Northern/Arena's decision an hour after the group went public on its plans.
The authority said: "At midday today representatives came to see us to inform us of their decision to close. This is the first we heard that they were going to take this decision.
"The lease between the council and the racecourse has a further 17 years to run and the council remains willing to discuss options with the company for the continuation of racing in Hereford.
"This is clearly a business-based decision for Arena Leisure and Northern Racing.
"We understand in discussion with them today that they have been running at a loss over recent years and their announcement and decision to close Hereford racecourse is based on their overall trading position."
BHA chief executive Paul Bittar said the decision to cease trading at Hereford and Folkestone was "a matter for Northern Racing and Arena Leisure" and added that the BHA "recognise and respect the commercial pressures that lie behind it".
Racecourse Association chief executive Stephen Atkin argued Friday's news is unlikely to trigger closures elsewhere.
He said: "I don't think it would be right to draw any assumptions that this is the start of a process that is going to get much worse. I am certainly not aware of any courses that are under severe pressure but the business environment is challenging."
In its response, the Horsemen's Group - which has recently been fiercely critical of prize-money at some Northern/Arena tracks - said the axing of Hereford and Folkestone was not "completely unexpected" following the merger of Northern and Arena earlier this year.
Chief executive Alan Morcombe said: "We at the Horsemen's Group also understand the commercial model that allows other racecourses in this racecourse group to improve their profitability by absorbing the fixtures previously run by Folkestone and Hereford. It is to be hoped, and expected, that that increased profitability will feed directly into improved prize-money."