Towcester plunged into administration – but there is some hope of a rescue
Sir Anthony McCoy has led a chorus of concern after the shock news that the future of Towcester racecourse and greyhound track is in doubt.
The course revealed on Thursday that steps were being taken to place Towcester Racecourse Company Limited into administration and that its greyhound fixture on Friday night would not take place. It has three horseracing fixtures remaining in 2018, in October, November and December.
Towcester is hoping there will be "significant interest from potential acquirers", and Arena Racing Company was quickly out the blocks to offer its support and is thought to be the likely front-runner in the event of Towcester finding a new owner.
Retired 20-time champion jockey McCoy partnered a landmark 4,000th British jumps winner at Towcester on Mountain Tunes in 2013, and he has many happy memories of riding at a course he admired as much for the unique challenge it presented as for its location and the welcome it offered.
McCoy said: "It will be very sad if Towcester closes down. It's a grand track and I have great memories of it.
"I always enjoyed riding there. It's unique, with that massive climb to the winning post, and it's a track you have to think your way around. Races can change there a lot, and it's a track where you can win with a horse who might not win elsewhere."
He added: "It was a great occasion for a lot of reasons when I rode my 4,000th winner. If I hadn't done it there it might have been at Southwell the next day and, with no disrespect to Southwell, I'm glad I did it at Towcester, where they made a big fuss and looked after us all really well.
"I thought the model of letting spectators in free was a good one, as there are plenty of ways of getting money out of people once they are through the door, but you'll get nothing at all if they aren't there. Hopefully somebody will step in and save it as a going concern."
In June, Towcester arranged a loan facility with Table Systems Limited, a company registered in Brunei, secured on Towcester’s property.
Sources have suggested the sum involved was £600,000, but the various attempts to shore up the business failed and the owners revealed on Thursday morning that steps are being taken to place the business in administration, with job losses already confirmed.
What is administration?
Administration is an insolvency procedure that protects a company against legal pressure from its creditors while an insolvency practitioner acts as administrator.
Entering into administration allows a company to protect itself against compulsory liquidation. During the administration period, a company can restructure under the leadership of an expert insolvency practitioner.
If a viable rescue plan can be pulled together many racing people will have Arena Racing Company (Arc) marked down as favourite to lead it.
Arc spokesman Sam Cone said on Thursday: "We are very sorry to hear the news from Towcester racecourse this morning.
"As a business, they are valued partners of both At The Races and The Racing Partnership and we will, of course, offer all the support we can to the management and administrators to try to resolve this situation.”
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson, whose father Johnny once played a big part in saving threatened racecourses, was horrified by the news.
"It would be an absolute tragedy if Towcester is lost," he said. "It's unique and a proper 'horses-for-courses sort of track'. I love it.
"I hope somebody can be found to rescue it. I gather greyhound racing there is a great success, and I can't believe somebody won't be found to put it back together again. We must all bang the drum."
Towcester racecourse has always played to the strengths of proper jumps-bred horses and Grand National, Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winner Kim Bailey has been a supporter all his career.
Bailey echoed Henderson when he said: "It will be a travesty if we lose Towcester – terribly sad. It's unique. It doesn't suit every horse but there's only really Hexham that is comparable in terms of the test it provides.
"It's not necessarily high-grade racing, but it's always very well attended and it fits in well with the local community."
The course's history dates to 1876, and in 1928 the first Lord Hesketh formed the present company and established the track under jumps rules. It has remained in the ownership of the Fermor-Hesketh family.
Can't say how sad I am that @TowcesterRaces has gone into administration. Fabulous racetrack and with greyhounds their welfare came first. Lord Hesketh ploughed so much of his own money in. Taking on an industry simply proved too much. Gutted for all concerned.— Matt Chapman (@MCYeeehaaa) August 16, 2018
A statement released by Towcester on Thursday read: "Towcester Racecourse Company Limited, proprietors of Towcester racecourse, are currently experiencing trading difficulties and are in discussions with key stakeholders and professional advisers on the way forward.
"However, the directors have concluded that they have no alternative in the short term but to seek court protection and are now taking steps to place the company into administration.
Star Sports stand with @towcester_tv— Ben Keith (@BenStarSports) August 16, 2018
This news is a terrible shock to us all
However, it is more important than ever that the Greyhound Racing Family stand together. We must be strong to save this great track
I advise we stay calm & wait for news. Deserting them helps nobody.
"As a result, it is with regret that the greyhound meetings on this Friday, August 17, and over the weekend at Towcester racecourse have been cancelled.
"While inevitably there will be considerable interest from customers, supporters and suppliers, the directors ask that they be given time to focus on exploring other options for the business, and they anticipate there will be a further update in the next few days."
It continued: "The directors remain hopeful that, despite the current situation, given the significant history of horseracing and more recently greyhound racing at Towcester, there will be significant interest from potential acquirers.
"Due to the financial difficulties referred to above, the majority of employees will be laid off with immediate effect pending formal appointment of administrators.
"Members of the management team will be contacting full-time employees during the course of this morning to explain the current situation in more detail, but in the meantime all employees are requested not to attend the racecourse site today."
The Northamptonshire jumps track is due to stage three more fixtures this year, the first of them on October 10, while greyhound meetings are held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, and also on Saturday mornings.
The BHA tweeted on Thursday: "Towcester racecourse are yet to formally make us aware of their plans to go into administration. When we receive this notification we will consider the implications that this has for the racecourse’s licence and their scheduled fixtures."
The greyhound stadium is a recent addition, opening in December 2014. For the last two years the track has staged the Greyhound Derby, the sport's most prestigious race and worth £175,000 to connections of this year's winner, Dorotas Wildcat.
Towcester's recent history
2002 Admission fees are waived at the track.
2004 The Easton Neston estate, including the racecourse, is put up for sale. Lord Hesketh later decides to retain ownership and sells only a portion to a Russian-born businessman.
2006 Announcement that from December the racecourse will charge for entry to their two most popular meetings on Boxing Day and Easter Sunday.
2008 Lord Hesketh puts the track up for sale for £10 million, but course is not sold.
2013 Sir Anthony McCoy registers his 4,000th career win on Mountain Tunes
2014 A new greyhound racing track is built for £1.8 million.
2017 The track stages the Greyhound Derby for the first time.
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