After three years of planning, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) finally approved the construction of a new racecourse in Great Leighs, Essex, in 2003. It was to be a state-of-the-art horse racing venue, with high-class facilities for spectators and racing staff and animals, as Britain’s first all-new racecourse in 81 years. And now, while watching the race, you can put your bets and play some entertaining games online.

Entrepreneur John Holmes and his son Jonathan came up with the concept. The 165-acre Essex County showground at Great Leighs, near Chelmsford, was purchased in 1997, and the duo began planning the development of a world-class equestrian arena soon after.

It was a huge undertaking to build a racecourse from the ground up in an area that had never had one before. The course, however, was in a great location, being only 50 miles from Britain’s largest racehorse training center in Newmarket, Suffolk, and within easy driving distance of London. The track was supposed to be made of an artificial Polytrack surface, aiming to expand the facility with a turf track inside the all-weather course later.

The event is open to the public.

The course was supposed to start in October 2006, and however, it was postponed many times owing to unforeseen circumstances. The maiden race was held on April 20, 2008, with an entirely invited audience. The first meeting with full public entry took place on May 28, 2008, and while the racing facilities were outstanding, the spectator facilities were lacking. Both the press and racegoers highly criticized them.

Racing at Great Leighs, which eventually cost more than £30 million, was up and running, but only briefly.

In the administration, there are a lot of great Leighs.

The course was put into receivership nine months after it opened, and the BHA soon canceled its temporary racing license. However, attendance was fair but not at the levels anticipated during that time. The costs of creating and operating the course had risen to the point that the firm could no longer justify them, and the system had accumulated excessive debts due to the downturn in the economy.

Deloitte, the administrators, then started trying to find a buyer for the facility, either as a racetrack or for other purposes. In March 2009, it was stated that two parties had inquired about the property but had been unable to show that they had adequate funds to purchase it.

The Royal Bank of Scotland was the facility’s primary creditor. The administrators reached an agreement with them to take over ownership of the site and lease out day-to-day operations to a race management company. An agreement was negotiated with businessman Terry Chambers for an 18-month lease, but it fell through when they were unable to get the necessary racing license.

After a further transaction with Chambers fell through, Deloitte gave up all chance of selling the site as a going concern in June 2010 and began discussions with the bank to identify an alternate use.

Great Leighs’ Prospects

Unfortunately, it appears like there will be no more horse racing at the facility shortly. The land now has little or no interest, and it seems that the most likely consequence is that it will be built for housing. The organizers consider adding a twist by incorporating clubs from hosting Polo events.