The finishing line is in sight in the race to open the first new racecourse in Britainfor 75 years on the Essex County Showground near Chelmsford. Great Leighs will be the first course to open since Taunton in 1927.

The British Horseracing Board gave the nod to the ambitious Great Leighs project last week. One aspect that weighed heavily in their favour was the fact that planning permission for an all-weather track, grandstand and stabling had already been granted.

“This gives us a three-year honeymoon period; that’s how long it can take to be granted planning permission,” says a delighted John Holmes, 53, the successful entrepreneur who is a founder member of British Dressage and on the national executive of the British Show Jumping Association. “The aim is to start racing here in September next year.”

First-race times of 11.30am are high on the Great Leighs agenda to capture new racegoers, who will be entertained in the five-storey steel and glass grandstand where there will be a fitness centre, casino, conference centres, a nightclub, big screens, bars and betting shops.

“We are a 365-day venue,” says John. “I have always considered lunchtime to be betting prime time. We have seen it with Greyhounds, South African racing, and Portman Park virtual racing. But most punters prefer to bet ontheir own racing and on horses they are familiar with.

“If we can race from 11.30am, it would also be perfect timing for countries in the Far East to take the pictures. We want to export British racing. By putting a quality product on screen we shall provide revenue for the industry.”

The course, with its Polytrack surface, has been designed to have the configuration of one of the best riding tracks in the country. The bends are cambered and the final turn into the short straight has been designed to add excitement to the action.

John explains: “The two-furlong straight run-in to the finish will increase the likelihood of jockeys jostling for positions on the final bend. This will enhance the excitement for both on-track spectators and television viewers.”

Champion jockey Kieren Fallon has been privy to the plans and believes Great Leighs, within an hour’s drive of Newmarket, will act as an ideal trial ground for big races worldwide such as the Breeders’ Cup and Dubai World Cup.

“The horses will find the surface friendlier than in America and it should provide the ideal place to run before going out there. Great Leighs is not dissimilar to Hollywood Park and Santa Anita,” he says.

Read the full story, including the thoughts of industry experts, in this week’s Horse & Hound (12 June).

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