WETHERBY RACECOURSE has announced a surprise plan to stage a Flat racing meeting next summer.
The North Yorkshire venue is renowned as one of the leading jumps tracks in the country, with the Charlie Hall Chase in particular holding a prestigious place on the winter calendar.
However, the course’s clerk, Jonjo Sanderson, has confirmed a desire to trial Flat racing in June, and if the test is successful, a formal application will be made to the British Horseracing Authority for a fully-fledged fixture in 2015.
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If that proves a success, the management of the 123-year racecourse will discuss whether to become a genuinely dual-purpose venue in the future.
The move is a surprise given Wetherby’s strong roots within the jumps racing fraternity, but reflects growing doubts over the long-term viability of a National Hunt-only venue.
The desire to move towards the Flat is also likely to have been driven by the ongoing discussions that could see either Catterick or Newcastle lose their turf Flat track in the next couple of years in order to accommodate an all-weather circuit.
Sanderson said: “Who knows where National Hunt racing will be in 25 years’ time, if anywhere with the do-gooders and things like that. As a business that’s purely based on National Hunt racing, the board here has been very mindful of that.
“We have talked about Flat racing in the past and it hasn’t really gone anywhere, but the decision has now been to try to progress that.
“This is not a move to do away with National Hunt racing, it would be only to supplement our existing product. At best I could envisage us having four or five Flat meetings in June and July, perhaps stretching into August, before we focus on our core business, which is jump racing from October.”
It is understood that a number of leading northern Flat trainers have already pledged to support Wetherby’s proposed fixture next season.
MIDDLESBROUGH’S Tony Bell has been named Championship Groundsman of the Year in the Football League awards.
Bell won the accolade for preparing the best pitch in the Championship, edging out Bolton Wanderers’ Richard Norton and QPR’s Dave Butler, who were both highly commended.
“It’s a real highpoint in my career and I'm very proud for the whole groundstaff team,” said Bell, who is assisted by Steven Johnson, Neil Rogers, Andrew Davies, Brian Smith, Jerry Croll, Tyler Woodrow and Jack Cunningham.
“We have worked hard to keep the Riverside pitch in good shape and it's great to be recognised in this way.
"We introduced a three-year plan last summer that involved major renovations. After removing the turf, we added 150 tonnes of new fibre sand and our efforts have been richly rewarded with a surface that has stood up very well to bad weather.
"We also made major improvements to the training pitches at Rockliffe Park and we're delighted at how well they have performed during one of the wettest winters for many years.”
Hartlepool United’s David Brown was highly commended in League Two, with Fleetwood Town’s Dale Frith claiming the overall award, while League One’s best groundsman was Peter Ashworth from Preston North End.
NEWCASTLE and Sunderland City Councils are being urged to lodge bids for the right to have their city recognised as England’s first ‘City of Football’.
Up to £1.6m of National Lottery funding will be invested by Sport England in the successful city to run a pilot programme that unites public, private and voluntary organisations to do whatever it takes to get more people – particularly those aged 14-25 years old – playing all forms of the grassroots game.
Expressions of interest are invited from consortiums of local partners that are committed to working together to deliver a ‘City of Football’. Applications should demonstrate commitment at the highest level and explain why this mix of local partners can together increase the number of people playing football in their city.