Musselburgh Racecourse given go ahead for New Year’s Day race

Picture: Jane Barlow
Picture: Jane Barlow
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CRISIS-hit Musselburgh Racecourse has been given the go-ahead to stage one of their flagship race days.

The British Horseracing Authority has agreed to extend a temporary licence while leading lawyers undertake a governance review at the course.

The extension means the popular New Year’s Day meet will go ahead – a welcome boost for the course. Racecourse chief executive Bill Farnsworth said: “We are pleased the BHA has extended our licence to March 31, 2018 so that the governance review can be completed and recommended changes 
implemented.

“We now are looking forward to putting on another successful New Year’s Day meeting on January 1.”

The racecourse hit the headlines over the summer amid allegations of mismanagement and a bitter row at board level.

Not-for-profit entity Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) – made up of four East Lothian councillors and three Lothians Racing Syndicate directors – runs the course.

Sport governing body the BHA only granted Musselburgh a temporary licence until it wins assurances on next year’s course budget.

Other issues at the course included 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.

The GMB union waded in, threatening to ballot members at the course on strike action, with 15 full-time staff and hundreds more on race days.

Despite the problems, business is booming at the venue, which counts Ladies Day among its flagship events.

A record 70,000 punters came through the gates last year while Grand National-winning trainer Lucinda Russell and eight-time champion jockey ­Peter Scudamore backed management and staff.

Matters came to a head in June when former MJRC chair, councillor John Caldwell, lost his seat on the council and, consequently, his seat on the MJRC.

The BHA said when granting a temporary licence in July that it could be extended – ­offering hope to the course and 
racegoers.

Conditions laid down by the BHA included demonstrable progress with the governance review and the subsequent implementation of all reasonable recommendations.

BHA director of legal and governance, Catherine Beloff, said: “The renewal means the temporary licence will cover the nine-month timeline for the completion of an independent governance review and substantial implementation of its recommendations, which were conditions of the last temporary licence given in July.

“On expiry of the temporary licence, the board will consider the progress made in relation to implementation in determining whether it is appropriate in the best interests of Musselburgh racecourse and the wider sport to extend the licence for a further period.”