Both the greyhound racing and the horse racing industries have been left reeling at the news that one of the biggest and most iconic venues in their respective sports has closed for business – and there is no knowing when, or even if, it will be reopening.
Towcester Racecourse hosted the Greyhound Derby earlier this year and is considered by many to be the premier greyhound racing venue in the country. It is also much beloved of horse racing fans, and was the venue at which Tony McCoy rode his 4,000th winner back in 2013.
On 16 August, Towcester Racecourse Ltd, the company that owns the venue, issued a short, sharp announcement that all races had been cancelled for the immediate future and that Towcester Racecourse would remain closed due to “trading difficulties.” The following week, Will Wright and Mark Orton from the restructuring arm of KPMG were appointed as joint administrators to attempt to find a way forward.
The news that followed, however, suggested that the outlook is bleak. 134 of the venue’s 137 staff were laid off with immediate effect, the remaining three being kept on only to assist the administrators in seeking a buyer of the business itself and its assets.
Greyhound racing and horse racing both remain popular, so you might wonder how a business like this, which hosts such prestigious events in both sports, can run into this kind of a situation. Part of the problem is changes in the way we approach both gambling and sport – two pastimes that come together in racing. From the gambling perspective, there is far more choice than there used to be. The online casino sector is huge, and hundreds of sites offer discount codes for a casino with no deposit necessary. It’s essentially an opportunity to win money on slots or table games at zero risk, and how can anyone compete against that?
The other major change is also one that has been prompted by technology. Even those who still prefer the lure of greyhound or horse racing to other types of gambling can get involved without needing to travel for several hours. Online streaming and live betting provide opportunities to get just as immersed in the races as if you were there in person. And social aspects to many of the apps mean you can even have a laugh and a chat with your friends at the same time.
What next for Towcester?
This remains the big question, and it is one that is yet to be answered. Some of the biggest names in sport, including Seamus Mullins and Nicky Henderson, have been vociferous in their calls for a rescue package to be created. Mullins said it is “vital that somebody comes in and saves it.”
Bookmaker Betfred, which owns Chelmsford Racecourse, is a potential purchaser, while the owners of Newbury have also confirmed they are “monitoring the situation.”
The future of Towcester is something that we will all be concerned about, but spare a thought for local racing fans Bob Welsh and Donna Mills. They have booked the venue for their wedding on 20 December, but are now left wondering whether the big day will go ahead.