sport

BHA turn down Newcastle bid

Newcastle's hopes of staging evening fixtures over an all-weather straight mile next season have been dashed.

Objections were raised last week by the Horsemen's Group at the prospect of the Gosforth Park track being granted an exemption in apparent contravention of the British Horseracing Authority rule book regarding the composition of races at a meeting.

Plans for Newcastle to replace its turf track with an artificial surface included floodlighting for only part of the track.

An online petition was also launched by the National Trainers Federation in opposition to the principle of the turf track being converted to a Tapeta one by owners Arena Racing Company.

The rules of racing stipulate that in each day's programme of racing, there must be two races of a mile or upwards of the minimum aggregate distance of two and a half miles and as Newcastle's current proposal for a converted all-weather track only includes floodlights over a straight mile, an exemption was required.

The BHA has decided not to grant that request and as a result Newcastle will be ineligible for floodlit fixtures in the second half of 2015, due to its planned construction timetable, but discussions will continue with ARC on this and related elements of their proposal.

The BHA board also agreed further consultation should take place so the fullest possible range of options for an all-weather track in the north are reviewed ahead of the compilation of the 2016 Fixture List.

This will include further discussions with Catterick , which has recently confirmed in writing to BHA that it intends to proceed with a detailed application for planning consent for a fully floodlit all-weather track to replace its existing Flat turf track.

BHA chief executive Paul Bittar said: "There is a general consensus amongst stakeholders that there would be benefits to the sport from an all-weather track in the north. This is backed up by evidence of clear demand from horsemen as established in our recent review, as well as through formal engagement with stakeholders.

"We weighed up the advantages of introducing a floodlit northern all-weather track at Newcastle in the latter part of 2015 against the negative race planning impact and associated implications for the sport as a whole of granting an exemption to a key rule of racing.

"As a result, the Board decided there was insufficient evidence at this time to justify granting an exemption to the rule for the 2015 Fixture List.

"BHA will continue discussions with ARC around its plans for Newcastle, including matters relating to the existing turf track, plus other interested parties, including Catterick Racecourse.

"This is clearly a significant issue for the long-term structure and development of British Racing, and BHA is tasked with reaching the best outcome for the sport as a whole.

"The choice facing the sport is likely to be clearer next Spring, and will be revisited by the BHA Board then, in good time for the compilation of the 2016 Fixture List and related approvals for new or converted racetracks to enter the Fixture Allocation Process."

ARC admitted the decision was an "unwelcome delay", but remain keen to ensure racing takes place on the proposed all-weather track at Newcastle in 2016.

A statement on www.arenaracingcompany.co.uk read: "Arena Racing has reiterated its commitment in the company's 10 million investment plan for Newcastle Racecourse. Under ARC's management, Gosforth Park will be transformed into a global sporting venue with the introduct ion of a new all-weather track and additional improvements to enhance the experience for all racegoers.

"The planning application for a new floodlit all-weather surface on the flat track and enhanced racing facilities, including a glazed tiered restaurant, was unanimously approved by the Newcastle City Council Planning Committee in April. Following this the BHA gave permission for Newcastle Flat turf fixtures to be transferred to the all-weather surface upon completion of the new track.

"Since the start of 2014 ARC had been in discussions with the BHA regarding the proposed race programme at Newcastle. As part of these discussions ARC put forward proposals to ensure that the current balance in the race programme, specifically in relation to rule F26.1, could be maintained across afternoon and twilight fixtures hosted at Newcastle on the all-weather track.

"In light of today's unwelcome delay in the project ARC remains committed and confident it can resolve race programme issues with the BHA, as well as owners and trainers. ARC will continue to work to ensure Newcastle's all-weather track will host fixtures as part of the 2016 Fixture List.

"From the advent of this exciting project, ARC has had a positive dialogue with the BHA, the Newcastle City Council and the Newcastle business community, including the North East LEP and North East Chamber of Commerce. ARC would like to put on record its gratitude for the help and support it continues to be shown by all of the forenamed organisations."

Tony Kelly, ARC managing director said: "The transformation of Newcastle Racecourse will be the biggest investment project ARC has ever undertaken and follows on from the company's 2 million investment in the new Tapeta surface at Wolverhampton and launch of the successful All Weather Championships last year.

"The benefits of a northern all-weather track are very clear. These include greater racing opportunities, an improved race programme for horses all year round and reduced travelling costs for owners. Newcastle remains the most viable option for delivering these for horsemen.

"We will continue to work with the BHA and look forward to embarking on this exciting project in August 2015."

David Williamson, Newcastle's executive director, said: "This is an ambitious and prestigious project for Newcastle. The racecourse facilities we hope to have in place by the middle of 2016 will ensure we better meet the needs of horsemen based in the north, as well as putting the city firmly on the global stage, attracting new visitors and creating local jobs."

The National Trainers Federation believes the BHA has made the right move in giving this highly-charged issue some breathing space.

A statement, issued through NTF chief executive Rupert Arnold, read: "The BHA Board has made the right decision for British racing. With Arena Racing Company (ARC) putting back their development plans, there is a welcome opportunity for everyone in the sport to take stock and consider the best way forward.

"Horsemen in the north need an all-weather track but it must be delivered in a way that doesn't threaten racing's immensely valuable heritage."