Horseracing pros jump into Musselburgh Racecourse row

DEMORALISED: Staff at Musselburgh are threatening to strike on race days after two votes of no confidence. Picture: Jacky Ghossein/ TSPL
DEMORALISED: Staff at Musselburgh are threatening to strike on race days after two votes of no confidence. Picture: Jacky Ghossein/ TSPL
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REIGNING Grand National winning trainer Lucinda Russell has spoken of her “disappointment” at a public row over the running of Musselburgh Racecourse.

Flagship events including Ladies Day in June are under threat, with staff threatening to strike on race days over pay and other grievances.

Now Ms Russell, who trained One For Arthur for this month’s Aintree win, has joined eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore in backing the course.

“Musselburgh is very important to racing in Scotland, and it is so disappointing to learn that this situation has been allowed to develop,” said Ms Russell.

“The work done by the management and staff at Musselburgh, led by Bill Farnsworth, has been exemplary – evidenced by the many awards won.

“Their efforts should be encouraged, rather than hindered in this way, and for the good of horse racing the situation now needs to be resolved in a way that allows people to get back around the table, working together and properly led.”

Mr Scudamore added: “Under its current management team, Musselburgh has seen massive improvement and progress.

“The Council should be supporting and encouraging those efforts, surely. Scottish racing is on a real high after the Grand National win. We should be doing all we can to build on that momentum.”

The pair were backed by Nick Alexander, the National Trainers’ Federation representative for Scotland, and Delly Innes, manager at Scottish Racing.

Not-for-profit entity Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) runs the course – made up of East Lothian Council and Lothians Racing Syndicate – but relations between the two have soured.

Sport governing body the British Horseracing Authority has only granted Musselburgh a temporary licence until it gets reassurances on next year’s course budget.

Other issues at the course include a second vote of no confidence by staff in the leadership of the MJRC and the loss of Investors in People status, a nationally recognised standard.

Now the GMB union is considering balloting members at the course on strike action, with 15 full-time staff and hundreds more on race days.

Tory MSP Miles Briggs, convenor of a new cross-party group at Holyrood on the Scottish horseracing and bloodstock industries also spoke of his concern.

“It would be devastating and totally unacceptable if actions, or indeed inaction, by councillors in any way put at risk the British Horseracing Authority’s issuing of a long-term licence for Musselburgh,” he said.

The Tories are in a power-sharing coalition at East Lothian Council with Labour, though the MJRC is chaired by independent councillor John Caldwell with three Labour members.

The council and Cllr Caldwell have said an investigation is under way at the course, but refuse to elaborate.

Green candidate for Musselburgh at May’s council election, Jason Rose, called for greater transparency at the course.

“Any allegations of mismanagement simply add weight to my call to end the secrecy,” said Mr Rose.