Great Leighs logo
|Location||Great Leighs, Essex|
|Owned by||M C Racetracks Ltd.|
|Date opened||20 April 2008|
|Screened on||At The Races|
|Course type||Flat Polytrack|
Great Leighs Racecourse is a thoroughbred horse racing venue located in Great Leighs near Chelmsford, Essex, England. When it opened in April 2008 it was the first completely new racecourse in the UK since Taunton opened in 1927. It went into administration the following January, and it is not known if racing will resume.
Great Leighs was developed and owned by entrepreneur John Holmes and his son, Jonathan. It aimed to exploit potentially the largest unserved market in British horseracing. Overall there is slightly more than one racecourse per million people in Great Britain, but there is no racecourse in Essex (population >1.6 million) or in east London (formerly part of Essex and with a population >1.5 million) or in the neighbouring county of Hertfordshire (population >1 million). However the course is only 50 miles from Newmarket, the largest racehorse training centre in Britain. The course is laid out as an eight-and-a-half furlong left-handed Polytrack oval, with a two-furlong home straight. The 10,000-capacity grandstand was used at the 2006 Ryder Cup.
Great Leighs was originally scheduled to open in October 2006, but the opening was deferred several times. On 20 March 2008 the racecourse announced that the opening fixture would be postponed to 20 April 2008 with the original opening date, 4 April 2008, being used a test day.
On 20 April 2008 the racecourse finally staged its first race meeting, with the opening race being won by Temple of Thebes. The meeting was attended by an invited audience only and the first meeting with full public admission took place on 28 May 2008. The venue attracted some praise for some of its racing facilities, and considerable criticism for the incomplete state of its visitor facilities. Attendances did not meet expectations.
The course was placed into administration and its temporary racing licence revoked on 16 January 2009. In March 2009 the administrators announced that the two parties that had made bids for the course had failed to demonstrate that they had sufficient financial backing. The administrators stated that they would enter into negotiations with the main creditor, the Royal Bank of Scotland, to see whether it was willing to take ownership of the course, and contract out the management of its operations to an established race course operator. The administrators subsequently made a deal with a local businessman, Terry Chambers, to lease the course to him for 18 months, but the course was unable to obtain a racing licence and therefore was ineligible to bid for fixtures for 2010. In September 2009 the administrator announced that they had struck a deal for Chambers and Bill Gredley to buy the racecourse with the hope that racing could resume in 2011. The deal fell through, and in June 2010 the administrators announced that they had given up hope of selling the business as a going concern, and had started discussions with the Royal Bank of Scotland to find an alternative use for the site. However, in March 2011 it was reported that Andrew Tinkler, chief executive of Eddie Stobart Ltd, was in discussions with Royal Bank of Scotland about reopening the track as a racecourse.
The course was bought by MC Racetracks in November 2011. In May 2012 the British Horseracing Authority rejected a bid by MC Racetracks to host fixtures at Great Leighs in 2013, whilst saying that the owners were "welcome to submit an application to be part of the 2014 fixture list". In January 2013 MC Racetracks announced that they would submit an application to the BHA to hold racing at the course in 2014.
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