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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 19:20 GMT
Great Leighs suffers new setback
By Frank Keogh

Great Leighs
Inspectors will examine the track again on 7 February
Britain's first new racecourse for 80 years has been forced to delay its opening again.

Great Leighs, near Chelmsford in Essex, had hoped to host its inaugural fixtures on 18 and 20 March.

Racecourse officials are now targeting an opening eight days later on 26 March, BBC Sport has learned.

The officials insist its all-weather Polytrack will be fit for racing despite recent heavy rainfall that has affected the progress.

Permission to race has yet to be granted by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

Inspectors have pencilled in a visit on 7 February, when they will examine the track again.

The BHA says the course is not ready, but Great Leighs chairman John Holmes blamed the latest setback on a clash with the 'Lesters', a racing awards ceremony.

The awards, named after legendary jockey Lester Piggott, take place on Thursday, 20 March.

It gives busy riders a chance to let their hair down with no racing the following day on Good Friday.

Holmes said the Great Leighs opening was put back after Jockeys' Association chief Josh Apiafi asked him to rearrange the Thursday floodlit card.

No decisions have yet been taken with regard to the fixtures Great Leighs have handed back to us

Will Lambe

"To aim for a start date of 18 March then cancel what is perceived to be the second meeting over the Easter period gives an even more muddled message to the public after our delays," said Holmes.

"Once we go, we go.

"We were naturally pleased to oblige the jockeys, though also anxious that the meeting was not lost overall and hope a replacement fixture can be allocated later in the year."

The course features a floodlit track, and was initially scheduled to open in October 2006.

A decision on the opening date ultimately lies with the BHA.

Seven fixtures were returned earlier in January after inspectors were not satisfied it was ready.

Once the track is approved by inspectors, the new racing surface will be tested by jockeys, trainers and ground staff.

BHA communications manager Will Lambe said: "Our inspectorate had been set to visit Great Leighs on Monday, with a view to hopefully signing off on the racecourse.

"But it became clear during the week that this visit would not have been worthwhile as the racecourse is still not ready, not least due to the current inclement weather.

"The formal inspection has been rescheduled for 7 February, and that is now the focus of our attention.

"No decisions have yet been taken with regard to the fixtures Great Leighs have handed back to us, or the racecourse's potential opening date."

Great Leighs will be the first new racecourse in Britain since Taunton opened in 1927.

SEE ALSO
Opening setback for Great Leighs
04 Jan 08 |  Horse Racing
Great Leighs faces further delay
22 Dec 06 |  Horse Racing
Great Leighs not ready for racing
05 Aug 06 |  Horse Racing
All-weather enjoys fixtures boom
28 Jul 05 |  Horse Racing


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