Main Menu
Top of Page
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

New Welsh racecourse Ffos Las not short on ambition 10/06/2009
Greg Wood

As claims to fame go, "the second new racecourse to open in the last 15 months" is hardly as impressive as "the first new track for 80 years", but the operators of Ffos Las in south-west Wales will not worry too much about that. By every measure that matters, Ffos Las does not belong on the same page as Great Leighs in Essex, never mind in the same paragraph, and eight days from now, a sell-out crowd of 10,000 will find out why.

Great Leighs was half-finished when it opened in April 2008, and no closer to completion when it closed, possibly for good, nine months later. Ffos Las, about six miles from Llanelli, is not just finished, but built to last.

From the stabling to the staff hostel, the weighing room to the grandstand and the bars to medical centre, it seems that no detail has been overlooked.

All it needs to do now is attract some horses and, given the immaculate state of the 12-furlong oval turf course, that will present no problem at all. The bends, meanwhile, are so generous and turn so evenly that even the longest-striding horse will fly around them without a ­second thought. Has there ever been a racecourse in Britain that could make so many boasts on its opening day?

"A lot of racecourses are where they are because in the 1800s, Lord So-and-So had a match against the neighbouring squire, and they've been racing there ever since," Tim Long, the clerk of the course at Ffos Las, says.

"Not just that, but the reason why they decided to race there in the first place was probably because it was no good for ­anything else, meaning that it wasn't even good farmland. And you notice that at racecourses, it's usually rough, old, heavy soil that modern racecourse managers have to deal with to try and maintain this multi-million pound industry and sport.

"As for the infrastructure, little bits and pieces get tacked on over the years, so when you try to make it all work as a unit, it can be very difficult."

Until a few years ago, Ffos Las was the site of the largest opencast mine in Europe. Then, when mining stopped, it was merely the continent's largest hole in the ground. Now, there are skylarks, ­kestrels and ­buzzards overhead, and another ­transformation is all but complete.

The Ffos Las project has been driven by the vision – and cash – of Dai Walters, a well-known jumps owner and local ­businessman, who acquired the land ­several years ago and then resold a ­portion to a house-builder at the top of the ­market, which helped to pay for the racecourse. Now, with its opening day finally in sight, ­Walters is already looking to the future.

"I'm very proud of everything that's been done, and very excited that it's done and dusted," Walters says. "This track will take the very best horses, and Paul Nicholls has already told me that he'd run any of his here.

"We have 28 fixtures next year, which we're very happy with, and we have a three-day Flat festival in August. My real wish would be to have mixed ­meetings, Flat and jumps, like they do at ­Galway, so I'm going to be very nice to the ­authorities and see if I can persuade them.

"It's all about attracting crowds of people and making sure that they enjoy themselves."

Building a racecourse from scratch means that such fundamentals as the drainage can be addressed from the start. There is also no need for separate Tatts and Members enclosures, a division that largely belongs to a bygone age.

"There's just one enclosure, which will be £13 for entry on a weekday," Long says. "Going forward, there are plans to ­resurrect the Welsh Champion Hurdle, and I've no doubt that you'll see that here in 2010, and hopefully it will be a proper trial for the Champion Hurdle as well.

"We've also had plenty of interest from Ireland. They've got too many horses and not enough racing there, and we're only an hour from the ferry."

Great Leighs was – and remains – an embarrassment. Eight days from today, though, the hot flush may start to fade at long last.