Towcester to close as course sells fixtures to Arena Racing Company
Any hopes that racing might return to Towcester have been extinguished with the news that the owners of the course have sold its ten fixtures for next year to Arena Racing Company (Arc) for an undisclosed sum.
While the resumption of greyhound racing at the site is being discussed, along with the possibility of point-to-point fixtures taking place there, it marks a sad end to one of British racing's most idiosyncratic venues.
Towcester went into administration in August last year citing "trading difficulties" and was subsequently sold to Fermor Land LLP, a company linked to owner and racecourse chairman Lord Hesketh.
Since then the track's fixtures have been rescheduled elsewhere as Towcester's new owners searched for an operator to run the course for them. Both Arc and the Jockey Club are understood to have considered taking on the track but both decided it was not economically viable.
A statement from Arc said: "Arena Racing Company can confirm that, following the closure of Towcester racecourse, Arc has purchased the unencumbered freehold of the ten fixtures that remained within the ownership of Fermor Land LLP.
"The transfer of these fixtures from Fermor Land LLP to Arc has been approved by BHA, with two to still be staged in 2019. The host venues for the fixtures on Thursday, November 28 and Thursday, December 19 will be confirmed shortly, with the location of the ten fixtures scheduled in 2020 to also be confirmed in due course."
The sale of Towcester's fixtures has only been made possible after the BHA agreed to let the deal go through despite Fermor Land not holding a licence from the governing body.
Harry Westropp of Fermor Land, said in a statement: "The partners of Fermor Land LLP would like to thank the BHA, Arc and the RCA [Racecourse Association] for their co-operation with the sale of ten Towcester legacy fixtures.
"I have no doubt that the fixtures will prove a great addition to Arc venues to sustain the sport moving forward.
"Fermor Land looks to the future with enthusiasm and hopes in due course to make further announcements regarding the resumption of greyhound racing as well as possible point-to-point fixtures."
The BHA said it had been liaising with Towcester's owners since late 2018 as they have been assessing the options for the future of the course.
The governing body said that, having been informed of the decision to close the course, it had assisted to ensure the sale of its racecourse fixtures. The sale has been ratified by the BHA board and the BHA will now work with Arc to redistribute Towcester’s meetings
BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: "We are saddened to see the closure of Towcester, a beautiful racecourse which will undoubtedly have created fond memories for many racing fans and participants.
Gutted to hear the @TowcesterRaces news— Fergal O’Brien Racing (@FOBRacing) October 1, 2019
A sad day
"We had hoped, following the course going into administration in August 2018, that the new owners might find a solution which allowed for racing to resume at Towcester, and it is disappointing that has not proved possible. The BHA will now work with Arc to find the most suitable venues for the ten fixtures involved, which will all remain over jumps.
"From championship racing to grassroots, jump racing remains extremely popular, with a growing base of loyal and knowledgeable supporters. The outlook for the sport is a positive one and we will continue to work with parties across the industry to ensure that jump racing in Britain goes from strength to strength in the future.”
Towcester would be the first British course to close since 2012 when Folkestone and Hereford shut their gates, although Arc reopened Hereford four years later.
Racing first took place at Towcester in 1876 and the Towcester Racecourse Company was established by the first Baron Hesketh in 1928.
Retired 20-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy partnered his landmark 4,000th British jumps winner at the course on Mountain Tunes in 2013.
Very sad. I had my first winner over fences there as an owner on Boxing Day 2003, trained by John Upson and ridden by Jamie Goldstein. Lots of very happy memories of a unique course. https://t.co/BeH0mXZNC5— Graeme McPherson (@McPhersonRacing) October 1, 2019
However, the following year the track sold seven of its 17 annual jump meetings to Arc in order to aid its expansion into greyhound racing.
The greyhound track opened in December 2014 and hosted the Greyhound Derby in 2017 and 2018.
The future of greyhound racing at Towcester does not look as bleak, with talks having taken place between the Hesketh family and Henlow promoter Kevin Bothby about a possible resumption next year.
August 2018 Towcester Racecourse Company Limited shocks the racing and greyhound worlds with the news it is "experiencing trading difficulties" and is looking to place the company into administration. Later that month KPMG are appointed as administrators for the crisis-hit course where 134 staff have been made redundant.
September 2018 Racecourse administrator KPMG reveal that 25 potential buyers have shown an interest in the track and it is hoped a sale could be concluded the following month.
October 2018 Administrators for Towcester racecourse reveal they have received four offers for the venue. Later in the month KPMG say they expect a deal for the track to be agreed soon, with administrator Gareth Shaw saying: "I expect Towcester to host racing in the near future as long as everything goes to plan."
November 2018 Towcester's administrators sell the track's assets to Fermor Land LLP, a company linked to racecourse chairman Lord Hesketh.
March 2019 The BHA says there will be no racing at Towcester until October at the earliest, with their remaining fixtures of the season reallocated.
August 2019 Towcester's ten fixtures are withheld from the 2020 fixture list, with the BHA saying they would be added in due course "either at Towcester or alternative racecourses".
October 2019 Towcester's fate is sealed with the news its ten meetings have been sold to Arena Racing Company.
Other British course closures since 1960
1962 Hurst Park
1970 Alexandra Park
2009 Great Leighs (reopened as Chelmsford City 2015)
2012 Hereford (reopened 2016)
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