After 3 years in the planning stage, in 2003 the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), eventually gave the go ahead for the development of a new racecourse at Great Leighs in Essex. To be Britain’s first all new racecourse for 81 years, it was to be a state-of-the-art horse racing venue, with first class facilities not only for spectators, but also for racing staff and horses.
The idea was the brainchild of entrepreneur John Holmes and his son Jonathan. The 165 acre site of the Essex County showground at Great Leighs, near Chelmsford, was purchased in 1997 and the pair soon started to work on planning the construction of a first class equestrian arena.
It was an ambitious project to construct a racecourse from new, in an area previously devoid of a similar facility. However the course was ideally located, being within easy travelling distance from London and only 50 miles from Britain’s largest racehorse training centre at Newmarket in Suffolk. The track was to be constructed from an artificial Polytrack surface, with further plans to increase the facility with a turf track, located inside the all-weather course, at a later stage.
Open to the Public
The course was originally due to open in October 2006, but because of unforeseen circumstances, this date was deferred several times. The course actually staged its first race on 20th April, 2008, in front of a wholly invited audience. The first meeting with full public admission did not happen until 28th May, 2008 and it was noticeable that the racing facilities were excellent, but those for spectators were incomplete and were heavily criticised by the press and racegoers alike.
Eventually costing a figure in excess of £30 million, racing at Great Leighs was up and running, but only for a short period of time.
Great Leighs in Administration
Nine months after opening, the course was put into the hands of the receivers and its temporary racing licence was quickly revoked by the BHA. During that time however, attendances had been reasonable, but not at the figures that had been hoped. The costs of building and running the course had spiraled to a level that the business could no longer justify and along with the downturn in the economy, it meant that the course had built up excessive debts.
The administrators, Deloitte, then set about the task of trying to find a buyer for the site, either as a racecourse or even to be used for other purposes. In March 2009, it was announced that 2 parties had made enquiries, but were unable to demonstrate that they had sufficient funding for purchase.
The main creditors of the site was the Royal Bank of Scotland and the administrators entered into negotiations with them, to take over the ownership of the site and lease out the day-to-day operations to a race management company. On the back of this, a deal was struck with businessman, Terry Chambers, for an 18 month lease, but this fell through when they were unable to obtain the required racing licence to operate.
Later on, a further deal with Chambers fell through and in June 2010, Deloitte finally gave up all hope of trying to sell the site as a going concern and entered into discussions with the bank to find an alternative use.
The Future for Great Leighs
Sadly, it seems very unlikely that there will ever be any more horse racing at the venue. There is little, or no interest in the site in its current guise and, it seems, the most likely outcome is that it will be developed for housing. Organizers are thinking of giving it a twist by incorporating clubs from https://www.golf-clubs.com/ and hold Polo events as well.