Racegoers lament closure of Hereford racecourse

AS a crowd of 2,600 racegoers streamed away from Hereford Racecourse on Sunday, there was still no indication of when - if ever - they might get to watch their sport again in the city.

What is certain is that there will no be racing at the track in 2013 with a resumption in 2014 still in the balance.

Current operators ARC, despite saying that the track is not financially viable, hold the lease for a further 17 years and have not ruled out bringing the track out of mothballs the year after next.

And there remain rumours of other groups, both local and otherwise, holding discussions of how they might take over the course.

One of the interested parties, former clerk of the course John Williams, believes the track could more than hold its own, saying that the course made a profit in every year of his long involvement.

Although there was plenty of good cheer at the track on Sunday, it was hard to escape an overwhelming feeling of sadness that a piece of the city’s history, dating back to the first meeting in 1771, had, at least for the time-being, drawn to a close.

Herefordshire jockey Richard Johnson, who rode his first winner Rusty Bridge at the track as a 16-year-old and marked the final day with a success on Sammy’s Gone, hoped there would be positive developments.

“If ARC don’t want to run the place, why not hand over the lease to people who do,” he said.

But it was not just the locals who were downcast at the end of racing in the county.

“It’s very sad that racing here has come to an end,” said a season-ticket holder at Bangor, who had made the 100-mile trip down to see the final day’s action.

And trainer Martin Keighley, who is based at Condicote in Gloucestershire and rode at the track in his youth, said: “We are only one hour away and to train the final two winners here means a lot to me. It’s a shame it has to go like this.”

Keighley’s Seymour Eric, ridden by Alain Cawley, created his own piece of history as the winner of the final race, the three-mile-two-furlong handicap hurdle.

Seymour Eric, who stayed on strongly to record an 11-length win in the 12-runner race after being sent to the front approaching the final hurdle, completed the last-day double for Cawley and Keighley. Half-an-hour earlier, the same combination had scored with Ukrainian Star in the extended three-mile handicap chase.

Cawley elected to make it a test of stamina in the heavy ground and, although the 4-6 favourite Doubletoiltrouble made an effort to chase the leader over the final five fences, Ukrainian Star stayed on stoutly to score by 10 lengths.

The meeting opened with a local success as Johnson rode the winner of the two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle for trainer Phillip Hobbs.

The odds-on favourite Rendl Beach, for the second time did not look in love with the game and was eventually pulled up but Johnson sent his mount to the front after the second last hurdle and cruised home for a 18-length win over local owner-trainer Sue Brooke’s 25-1 outsider Radius Bleu.

The partnership of trainer Charlie Longsdon and jockey Noel Fehily are unstoppable at present and they scored again when No No Bingo took the two-mile-three-furlong handicap chase.

It seemed as though Nick Schofield, aboard Ballywatt, had timed his challenge to perfection from the second-last fence but Fehily refused to give up on his mount and they held on by a diminishing short-head.

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