Bookies Behind New Racecourse

Betfred boss heads opening of new racecourse

Chelmsford City

Chelmsford City

A new era dawned for British racing on Sunday when Chelmsford City racecourse hosted its first meeting.

The all-weather Essex track opened its doors after a six-year break following the closure of Great Leighs.

Sunday saw a seven-race card before an invited audience of 800, with the course officially opening its doors to the general public on 22 January.

“We’ve got more than 50 fixtures in our first year,” said course managing director Phil Spiers on BBC Radio 4.

“We’re delighted we’ve managed to get it ready and are looking forward to it.”

Great Leighs closed in January 2009 after going into administration less than a year after it launched.

The racecourse is now owned by a consortium, headed by Fred Done, the boss of bookmakers Betfred.

There were several suggestions of improvements that could be made, but many of the 801-strong crowd were complimentary about the facilities.

Dave Keeling, from Galleywood near Chelmsford said: “It’s very nice and facilities-wise it’s pretty decent generally, but I am thinking if you get a full capacity crowd they might struggle with the bar side of it. At the moment it’s all right but there are queues and there are not many people here so you do worry what it would be like with 3,000 people. They might struggle to serve them.

“There are silly little things they need to address, like signs for the toilet! I was at Beverley in the summer and to be honest the facilities there seemed better compared to here, but I suppose it is a trial and they can only improve.”

Betfair's Fred Done seen in a file shot with Sir Alex Ferguson

Betfair’s Fred Done seen in a file shot with Sir Alex Ferguson

Craig Pepper, from Southend, said: “We won tickets in a Betfred beting shop and it’s a lot warmer in this grandstand than it was in 2008 when we came for the launch day then. It’s only 40 minutes from us and we will come again, although £4.50 for a Guinness is a bit strong.”

Bookmaker reaction was also cautiously optimistic. Paddy Power said: “Turnover was slightly down on the equivalent all-weather card at Wolves on this day last year, but bearing in mind punters are betting on a new track where any biases are completely unknown, we’d have to be pleased with the figures which bode well for the future.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given company boss Fred Done is also the owner of the new track, Betfred reported that the opening fixture was a big hit with punters.

Spokesman Andrew Griffiths said: “Punters lapped up the action at Chelmsford City and it was easily our busiest meeting of the day.  There’s clearly an appetite for good quality all-weather racing and it’s very encouraging for the future.”

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