Coventry & Warwickshire

Can Warwick keep its racecourse?

Image caption Warwick holds flat and jumps meetings throughout the year

Warwick Racecourse is beloved by race-goers, trainers and many of the town's residents - but lately the venue has fallen at a series of hurdles which, along with recent racecourse closures elsewhere, has led to speculation about its future.

So can the popular course be saved?

Excited crowds, television crews and bookmakers will descend on Warwick Racecourse on Saturday for one of the most important events in the historic course's calendar.

Thousands of spectators are expected at the Betfred Classic Chase.

But behind the fun and glamour, discussions are being held about how to ensure the course, which made a loss last year, is commercially viable.

Rain woes

Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) which owns and operates the Warwick site and 14 other UK courses, said the loss was mainly caused by a third of 21 planned meetings in 2012 being cancelled because of bad weather.

Image caption Resident Elizabeth Wassall said the course was very important for Warwick

Scott Bowers, group director of communications, said: "One of the benefits of being part of Jockey Club Racecourses is that we were able to absorb that.

"We are projecting a small profit for the course in 2013 and we are focused on running a commercially viable operation at Warwick to ensure many more years of great racing at the course."

He said the course, which the club has run since 1967, tended to break even or make a small profit.

Mr Bowers said that Jockey Club Racecourses "exists solely" for the good of British horse racing and puts any profits back into the sport.

'Needs to diversify'

A £2.2m project in 2007 saw an improvement in facilities at the racecourse, including a new restaurant and weighing room complex.

JCR says it has had to diversify the business "to compete and survive in the modern world" and holds conferences, weddings, and launches to boost revenues.

Image caption A study will look at the site's long-term future and improving its prospects

Last year the company voiced concern when Warwick District Council, which owns the land, rejected its plan for a 100-bed hotel at the site.

The Conservative-run council's planning committee rejected the scheme on conservation grounds and the possible impact on nearby homes.

But council deputy chief executive Andrew Jones said the decision had "disappointed" its own leaders.

He said JCR spoke to council members of the executive last summer.

"It was really to say the Jockey Club was concerned the council did not value the racecourse and felt they wanted to move forward with a much more partnership approach, working together to ensure the course is viable".

Mr Jones said the company pointed to Folkestone and Hereford Racecourses which both closed in December as they were not considered viable.

Town treasure

In Hereford it put an end to a sport which had taken place in the city since 1771, although Herefordshire Council said it was still negotiating with operator Arena Racing Company to try to reinstate it.

Image caption Malcolm Chamberlain is among residents who enjoy the whole site

Elizabeth Wassall, who has lived in Warwick for more than 20 years, walks her dog on the course every day.

She said the importance of the course and the rest of the land which includes a golf course, football pitch and wildlife area, could not be over-estimated.

"At least 100 people walk their dogs here every day. It's so close to the town, and it's got parking, which is important to the town centre.

"It's just a bit of breathing space for us."

Malcolm Chamberlain, 58, has enjoyed the site all his life and said it was "unbelievably" important. As well as walking his dog on the course, he regularly goes to the races.

'Not an option'

Shropshire horse trainer Henry Daly, who often has runners at Warwick, said the course was very important to the racing community.

"It's incredibly important to us," he said.

"It's a vital part to the structure of racing."

Image caption The Jockey Club said millions had been invested at Warwick

Mr Daly said part of the value of the Warwick course was as a site for racing horses before they moved to bigger courses such as Aintree.

Mr Jones said the council realised it was a vital amenity and was working with JCR to find a way forward.

The company and the council have put up £6,000 each for a study looking at how the land can be improved and made more viable.

Mr Bowers said JCR was "passionate" about keeping the course going and the study would look at how the site could be improved over the next 20 years.

"We are not in the business of closing racecourses - but in the business of growing them," he said.

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