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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Variety is spice of racing life

By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC Sport racing correspondent

Hexham racecourse
The views at Hexham are among the best in the country
Hexham racecourse may be rated way down the list of Britain's 59 tracks in terms of prestige, but few can surpass it for rural charm.

To get there, you climb out of Hexham itself and wiggle your way through narrow country lanes, surrounded by views towards the Cheviot hills, Hadrian's Wall and the paraphernalia of structures that make up Newcastle, 20 miles to the east.

Eventually, the actual racing arena appears, somewhat ramshackle and with little formal viewing.

But then as most of the action fans out across the green acres below a banked area, none is needed.

The same type of enthusiasts that attend fixtures at Hexham today are the same kind who always have done.

I often wonder if the novelist Catherine Cookson, who based her storylines and characters in the north-east of England, might have come to the races for inspiration.

Certainly chatting over meat pies and mushy peas in the Bramble Tudor bar, or gathered in huddles around the rickety stables and paddock, every colourful aspect of local life seems to be represented.

People and locations like these are, or should be, the bedrock of the tradition of jump racing.

Yet there are those who see all this as a relic of the kind of past that Cookson wrote of, and would sweep it all away.

But we would be the poorer for it. Nowhere is variety more the spice of life than when it comes to British racing, much to the envy of everyone else.

In a brave new world envisaged by some, the Hexhams would quite likely be the principal casualties, but we would be the poorer for it

We have the grandeur of Ascot and Cheltenham, Goodwood and York, and then the splendid eccentricity of Hexham, Bangor-on-Dee and Cartmel.

Yet the impression given by the suited dullards in the corridors of power is that they have no understanding of all this.

Everything is seen within the rigid terms of the balance sheet. This fails to grasp the bigger picture.

The whole show must be kept on the road by revenue provided from betting, but it is crucial for people to turn up to feel part of it all well.

And they relish something a bit different, with a bit of character and sparkle, like Hexham.

Naturally, there is a place for the more sanitised version but, please, not all the time.

Otherwise the crowds that have given racing such a boost in recent years will wander off and a part of Britain's sporting heritage will be lost forever.

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