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Acquisition of Great Leighs by Betfred

UK bookmaker Betfred has purchased UK racecourse Great Leighs and has announced that it plans to host fixtures at the venue as early as 2015.

The Essex Chronicle newspaper said that Betfred owner Fred Done, along with partners SIS and Bet Solutions International, hope to rename the track Chelmsford City Racecourse and will apply for fixtures in the New Year.

Planning permission is in place to build a grandstand at the course while the actual polytrack surface is said to be in good condition.

There are also plans to offer lucrative prize money to winners of races at the venue with figures of at least £42,000 (€50,263/$68,651) on offer for each fixture.

Joe Scanlon, Betfred’s director of racing, will serve as the racecourse’s new chairman and said that the deal to take over Great Leighs represented a ‘significant investment’ for the company.

“Working closely with the BHA (British Horseracing Association), we intend to deliver a high-class programme of racing which can only be to the benefit of everyone in our wonderful sport,” he said.

“The track is ideally situated for the training centre in Newmarket, while the surrounding area has a total catchment of in excess of three million people.”

The news of the investment comes after former owner James Holmes, his partner Jill Turner and one other man were arrested on suspicion of fraud by false representation, cheating the public revenue and money laundering.

Holmes declared himself bankrupt in 2009 and MC Racetracks took over ownership with Ingatestone’s Keith Brown serving as chairman.

However, hopes of reopening the racecourse to the public next year were halted when the BHA rejected a fixtures application in June of this year.

BHA spokesperson Robin Mounsey confirmed that the organisation had received notification of the proposed change of ownership of Great Leighs and said it had held “preliminary discussions” with those involved.

“The racecourse is currently unlicensed,” he said. “There is an existing timeframe for applications to be made to the BHA Board for new racecourses to enter the next fixture allocation process.

“Any applications would need to be submitted by the end of January in order to be considered for participation in the 2015 Fixture List. An independent report has been commissioned by BHA regarding the benefits and downsides of potential expansion of the All Weather programme.

“The report, which is being undertaken by Deloitte and will involve consultation with stakeholders, will be presented to the BHA Board in the first quarter of 2014, prior to the compilation of the 2015 Fixture List.”

Neil Gulliver, Chelmsford City Council’s cabinet member for planning and economic development, added that he believes it is “achievable” for the racecourse to host fixtures again by 2015.

“The racecourse needs people that can invest money,” he said. “There has been a huge market for local racing in Essex – considering the amount of people who enquire with me about it I have no doubt it will be a success now with professional owners.”