Taunton, which opened in 1927, was the last new racecourse in Britain
Great Leighs is set to become the first new racecourse in Britain for over 75 years.
The Essex venue has been given the go-ahead by the British Horseracing Board,
subject to it being granted a licence by the Jockey Club, which is expected to be a formality following completion of the project.
The news follows three years of detailed preparatory work to redevelop Essex
County Showground, near Chelmsford, into what will be a left-handed, oval, all-weather track which is expected to open towards the end of 2004.
Tony Goodhew, Jockey Club director of racecourse licensing and standards and a
member of the BHB's New Racecourse
Fixtures Committee, said: "The Jockey Club has been kept fully apprised of the planned course layout and its key facilities.
It would be a good trial for something like the Breeders'
Kieren Fallon on Great Leighs
"As soon as all the necessary construction work has been completed we expect to be in a position to formally license Great Leighs."
John Holmes, who masterminded the plans for Great Leighs, was delighted by the BHB's decision and said it would benefit British racing.
"Most of the world's richest races take place on left-handed ovals. In the longer term, if the hope is to bring world class all-weather racing to Britain, we are poised to meet the challenge," he said.
Existing buildings on the 165-acre site will be demolished and replaced by a £40m state-of-the-art steel and glass grandstand and eight-furlong Polytrack circuit.
The grandstand will have a stand-alone function for year-round use, a 25,000
square-foot fitness centre, night club, full range of public restaurants and
permanent television production studios.
Elsewhere in the grounds will be a 120-stable permanent training yard.
Champion jockey Kieren
Fallon has given his backing to the project.
"It's very similar to a lot of tracks in America but with a much, much
friendlier surface," said the Irish rider.
"It would be a good trial for something like the Breeders'
Cup - for sharpness, for going into that first turn, and for getting your
position, which is so important."
Taunton was the last racecourse to open in the UK, back in 1927.