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Hereford and Folkestone racecourses to close at end of 2012 16/09/2012
Tony Paley
• Arena and Northern Racing announce shock closure
• Folkestone future dependent on negotiations with council

Arena Leisure and Northern Racing have announced the permanent closure of Hereford racecourse and the temporary closure of Folkestone racecourse at the end of the 2012 season.

The racecourse fixtures currently staged at Hereford and Folkestone will be transferred to other racecourses within the group. The company stated that Folkestone may re-open in the future, subject to negotiations with Shepway Council.

Tony Kelly, managing director of Arena and Northern, said: "Hereford is owned by Herefordshire County Council and run under a lease arrangement.

"Attempts to extend the lease, which has 17 years remaining, have been unsuccessful. Despite being unviable for several years we have supported the racecourse but much-needed investment, required to breathe new life into the racecourse, cannot be justified in the absence of a long-term future for the business.

"Folkestone suffers from out-dated facilities and has been the subject of detailed discussion between the previous management, Arena Leisure, and Shepway district council for several years now.

"The proposal for the site incorporated significant residential development, which would have enabled a new racecourse to be constructed with much enhanced amenities.

"However, these plans have been delayed following the recent examination in public of the local plan. Discussions will continue with Shepway district council in the hope that there will be approval of development plans which would secure the future of the racecourse. If they succeed, work to reconfigure the racecourse could commence in 2013.

"Every effort to continue trading at these racecourses has been explored but it is with regret that a variety of circumstances means that this is no longer possible, therefore both Hereford and Folkestone racecourses will therefore cease trading at the end of the 2012 season.

"The fixtures will be transferred to other racecourses within the group, where we will be able to offer increased prize money and better quality facilities for connections and racegoers alike."

The announcement has a come as a shock to British racing. Great Leighs racecourse was only open for a short time from early 2008 for a year, and these are first tracks to close since Stockton in June 1981.

Paul Bittar, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority said: "This decision is a matter for Northern Racing and Arena Leisure. We recognise and respect the commercial pressures that lie behind it.

"While British racing is immensely popular on many levels, and enjoyed record attendances last year, the fact is that the sport's financial model remains badly outdated. This undoubtedly makes life very difficult for all who depend on the sport for their living and it also impacts upon racecourses, particularly smaller ones.

"We are encouraged to learn that the fixtures transferred as a result of the closures will benefit from increased prize money, but the priority for the whole sport remains the modernisation of our funding mechanism to underpin the future of British racing and ensure a fair return for all participants."

Evan Williams is one of the leading trainers at Hereford, having saddled 18 winners in the last five years at the track. The Llancarfan handler was in shock after hearing the news.

He said: "It really is absolutely devastating. I honestly can't believe it. Along with Chepstow, Hereford is probably our local track and I've had some great days there both as a trainer and a jockey before that.

"It's always a great place to have runners as it's a great atmosphere and it attracts a proper National Hunt crowd in a proper National Hunt area. It's really upsetting news and it's going to be a massive loss to racing in the west and to trainers in south Wales. It will be a loss to the whole country I think.

"Where there is life there's hope and I just hope something can be done to prevent this from happening."

Fellow Welsh trainer Tim Vaughan is similarly surprised by the announcement. He said: "It's frightening really. It's quite a shock. It's not as though we've known there were talks going on or anything, it's just come completely out of the blue and it's hard to get your head round at this stage.

"Hereford is a track that is synonymous with National Hunt racing and it will be devastating for everyone if we lose it. Both Hereford and Folkestone are racecourses that have stood the test of time and this is not what racing needs at the moment."

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