Racing at Musselburgh continues as council agrees to review terms
An as yet undecided outside party is set to rule on the civil war that came close to halting future meetings at Musselburgh after the racecourse's local authority owners bowed to BHA demands for a review of the track's governance to be wholly independent.
In a stand-off that went right to the wire, East Lothian Council leader Willie Innes, who also chairs the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee that runs the popular venue, stepped back from his intention for the council itself to commission a review many will expect to result in a change to the racecourse's balance of power.
With the four councillors on the MJRC having the potential to hold sway over the three racing members drawn from the Lothian Racing Syndicate, internal disputes and unhappiness have hit Musselburgh hard. However, the BHA's decision on Friday to hand over a temporary licence until the end of the year signalled progress has been made.
"We are relieved the BHA has been able to issue a licence to Musselburgh, which will allow our next meeting on Friday, July 14, to proceed as scheduled," said Musselburgh chief executive Bill Farnsworth.
"We are aware recent events have caused much uncertainty in the racing industry and would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused. We would urge racing fans, owners and trainers to support Musselburgh at this meeting as we seek to find a long-term solution to this unfortunate situation.
"We hope the proposed independent governance review will create a modern blueprint that puts the interests of the racecourse first and prevents any similar situation from arising in the future."
John Prideaux, one of the LRS's three members on the MJRC, added: "The Lothians Racing Syndicate made clear from the outset we support the BHA requirement to hold a governance review and welcome the BHA's insistence the review be wholly independent and not simply commissioned by East Lothian Council, as Councillor Innes wanted.
"We are committed to working with other MJRC members to ensure the best possible outcome for hard-working racecourse staff and the racegoers, trainers and owners who have supported Musselburgh over the years."
The BHA move was also applauded by Innes, who took over at the helm of the MJRC in May following local elections that resulted in predecessor John Caldwell, central to much previous animosity at Musselburgh, losing his seat.
Innes said: "I welcome the BHA’s decision and will continue to progress matters positively in order to safeguard the future of racing at Musselburgh. I also welcome the BHA’s confirmation upcoming race meetings can go ahead."
Miles Briggs, Conservative MSP for Lothian and convener of the parliament’s cross-party racing and bloodstock group, said: "The fact we faced the imminent cancellation of important race dates at Musselburgh and endured all the associated uncertainty and negative media coverage for the racecourse over recent months has been regrettable and damaging.
"Many local people and racegoers believe there are real questions to be answered as to how this state of affairs came to arise and why the Council could not have secured this agreement weeks ago."