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Monday, 17 December, 2018

Musselburgh boss warns of 'disaster' if track closes amid power struggle

Musselburgh: course's licence to race runs up until April 7
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The chairman of the Lothian Racing Syndicate has said it will be a "disaster" if Musselburgh is forced to close as a result of the massive power struggle which has engulfed the course.

A dispute between East Lothian Council and the LRS has left a big question mark over the future of the track, which first staged racing in 1816, and cast a cloud of uncertainty over the big Easter meeting on Saturday, which was headlined by the £100,000 Queen's Cup.

Officials await the BHA’s decision over the renewal of the track’s licence, which expires next Saturday.

LRS chairman John Prideaux said: “Our immediate future lies in the hands of the BHA. The licence runs out on April 7 and it’s up to the BHA now.

“We race here on Thursday and I am hopeful but not entirely confident that there will be racing after that.

“It would be a disaster for the area, the staff and many others involved in the racing industry if this racecourse was lost forever."

Prideaux added: “We’ve put in so much work to make this racecourse what it is. Twenty years ago it was no better than a downmarket dog track. Now we have excellent facilities and top-class racing. Nobody would have dreamed that it would be possible to stage a £100,000 race here.

“I have so much respect for all our staff. We could not have achieved what we have here without their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm.”

Musselburgh chief executive Bill Farnsworth

In an interim measure the 15 full-time members of staff are to be treated as council employees from April 7. At the same time the governance by the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee will end and be replaced by a council-led committee in which the LRS representation will be reduced from three to two.

Chief executive Bill Farnsworth, who is a member of the LRS, said: “I am confident racing will continue as long as the council work with the LRS and other stakeholders get together.

“We don’t race for a month after Thursday so there is time to sort out a few things. We want to hear the council’s long-term plans for the course as we are not sure they have any at the moment.”

Farnsworth added: "If the council takes over, it would be like putting us into the public sector and no other racecourse in the country is run in that way."

Members of staff have threatened strike action if the course becomes council-run.

Kevin Ryan: "I just hope common sense prevails"

Trainers on Saturday were keen to praise the improvements made at the track. Yorkshire-based trainer Kevin Ryan said: “Musselburgh has really got its act together in recent years, as have all the tracks in Scotland, and it would be a great shame if it had to be closed.

“Trainers and owners are always well looked after here and it’s sad to see what’s been going on. I just hope common sense prevails and they resolve all the issues.”

Charlie Johnston, the son of trainer Mark Johnston, said: “We would be distraught if this course was lost. It’s the most upwardly mobile in the whole of Britain and Bill [Farnsworth] and his team do a tremendous job.”

One regular racegoer who has been attending the track for more than 30 years echoed Ryan’s views. “This used to be a ramshackle place with moderate racing and they have done a tremendous job making it what it is now,” said Bill Robertson, from Bonnyrigg.

“I go racing a lot in Scotland and I believe this is the best of all the five courses in the country.”

No members of ELC were available for comment but in a statement issued last week promised to make the required changes to secure the future of the racecourse.

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Twenty years ago it was no better than a downmarket dog track. Now we have excellent facilities and top-class racing

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