Turfed out: BHA rejects Chelmsford's application for grass fixtures
Chelmsford's ambition to stage turf racing from 2019 suffered a setback on Tuesday when the BHA turned down the course's initial application to lay down the new track, although officials are optimistic any hurdles can be overcome.
The BHA's board has asked for more information on Chelmsford's plan to build a turf track on the inside of its existing all-weather course before reconsidering the proposals at its next meeting in April.
In a double blow, Chelmsford's application for extra fixtures next year has also been refused by the authority.
The BHA declined to elaborate on the reasons for refusing the initial application for a turf track, the construction of which is already under way at the Essex course.
Head of media Robin Mounsey said: "The board were unable to approve the application from Chelmsford City at this time. More information on their application to build a turf track on the inside of their existing all-weather track will be sought before it is considered again at the April meeting of the board."
Chelmsford manager director Phil Siers responded in relaxed fashion about the situation and described himself as absolutely confident turf racing would come to Essex in 2019.
He would not be drawn on specific details, but said: "It's just clarification on some aspects of the track and the BHA being comfortable with them. Once they've been explained in more depth then everything should be fine and we're bang on schedule to get the work completed for next year.
"There are a couple of things that need to be clarified, which they've asked us to do and we're in the process of doing that by mid-April.
"When we move to a turf and all-weather cycle we'd expect any extra turf fixtures to generate significant prize revenues for racing and more betting turnover. With a normal summer and normal winter we'll be ready for turf racing in the last half of the year; that's the plan."
Owned by Betfred founder Fred Done, Chelmsford was allotted 63 all-weather fixtures this year but hopes to add between 14 to 16 turf meetings, while investment to have that code of racing – which include fixtures staged under lights – would cost £3 million.
The track’s management has already acknowledged the new turf track would be tight as it would lie within the mile-and-half-a-furlong all-weather course. The turf is being grown elsewhere, with plans for it to be laid a year in advance of racing taking place.
While not ideal, the BHA's refusal to grant extra fixtures does not curtail Chelmsford's plans to race on turf as they would have the option of transferring fixtures from all-weather to grass. However, it is clearly dependent on the approval of the planned turf track.
Course officials have indicated their desire to host turf fixtures before and after the traditional Doncaster dates of the Lincoln and November Handicap and have aspirations for a Breeders' Cup-style meeting.
Good news for Southwell
There was better news for fellow all-weather circuit Southwell, which last summer announced an intention to host floodlit fixtures, joining Chelmsford, Newcastle, Kempton and Wolverhampton as night-time venues.
Planning permission for Southwell came in November and staff there will have been further buoyed by the BHA's announcement on Tuesday that they had approved an application for the installation of floodlights.
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