ARC opens new era at Hereford & Bath

Fresh start is the current theme at Britain’s biggest racecourse operator, the Arena Racing Company, which is preparing to reopen in Hereford on Thursday 6 October, less than three months after officially launching a massive makeover at Bath.

Hereford, which has ticked over with Point to Point and Arabian racing since exiting the BHA fixture list after the meeting on Sunday 16 December 2012, becomes the first British track in modern history to be brought back into action after voluntary closure.

ARC chief executive Martin Cruddace explains the reasoning: “I looked at the commercial and business case for re-opening, and was convinced it was the right thing to do.

 “Our aim is to provide both racing opportunities and a compelling betting product for licensed betting offices and those bookmakers who hold streaming rights.”

Cruddace’s appointment in June last year to succeed Hong Kong-bound Tony Kelly, after nine years as Betfair’s Chief Legal Officer and a brief spell as acting CEO of the Association of British Bookmakers, came too late in the 2016 fixture process to make a serious impact for Hereford, which will race four times this year. However, the business plan will swing into action in 2017 with 11 fixtures.

It’s steady as she goes and all hands on deck at the track ahead of the reopening fixture. With five other racecourses within a 75-minute drive, there has been no lack of enthusiasm from the ARC team to pitch in and offer their services.

Among those lending a helping hand is Katie Stephens, Clerk of the Course at Bath, who will take on a similar role for this year’s fixtures, but the permanent face of Hereford is Rebecca Davies, She has switched camps to become Hereford’s Executive Director and Clerk of the Course after 17 years with Jockey Club Racecourses, most recently as regional racing Operations Manager for Cheltenham and the South West.

“It’s terrific to be returning to Hereford, where I was born and bred, at what is a hugely exciting time for the racecourse,” Davies says.

“I feel privileged to be able to play a leading role in its re-opening and development in the years ahead, and am really looking forward to building strong relationships with all stakeholders to firmly re-establish Hereford within the industry and local community in particular.”

As well as renaming the main restaurant after Rusty Bridge, a first-ever winner for Hereford-born champion jockey Richard Johnson, Davies’s theme has already paid dividends among local businesses, with Kidwell’s Solicitors sponsoring the main grandstand, Chase Distilleries offering a range of premium spirits in the racecourse bars and Cotswold Hereford MINI and BMW providing vehicles to the racecourse.

“We’re full steam ahead with preparations for 6 October,” Davies says, “and we can’t wait to welcome everyone through the gates.”

As to the security of racing at Hereford, Chief Executive Cruddace is adamant: “I can’t imagine that in the future we would open a track and close it again.”

Fears that Bath racecourse, with its crumbling grandstands and flooded jockeys’ room, might also be on ARC’s hit list, have also proved way off the mark, thanks to fresh determination from senior management and a convincing case developed by long-serving Executive Director, Jo Hall.

Cruddace explains: “Despite some rumours to the contrary, it was never our intention to close the course, but we could not carry on with another season of doing patchwork repairs, and I took the view early on when I arrived at ARC that there was a case for holistic investment at Bath.
Jo came up with a detailed investment case, and I was prepared to back her, because the catchment area and geography of the course led me to believe there was untapped potential, provided we get it right and make going to Bath races a proper experience.

“It’s in a gorgeous location, with brilliant views, and with its history, it would be odd if this part of Britain didn’t have a quality racing facility.”

Previously best known among the general public for its being the highest Flat racecourse in Britain and lacking a watering system, Bath has benefited from a multimillion pound investment, resulting in the new Langridge grandstand, with a magnificent ‘sail’ canopy and offering fine dining for up to 200 people on racedays, refurbishment of various public areas, upgraded owners’ and trainers’ facilities, a re-sited parade ring, and redeveloped weighing room.

Cruddace adds: “Building the new Langridge grandstand was part of an overall exercise of improvement across the racecourse. It’s not been done in isolation, but as one measure among several to improve facilities, particularly for owners and trainers.

“The whole racecourse experience has changed over the last ten months. Bath now provides a great day out, and we’ve already had a tremendous reception from our crowds.

 “There’s every reason to think we will be successful with the redevelopment, through attendances, pushing up the quality of the racing, and boosting our events and non-racing business.”

Looking back at the redevelopment and ahead to next year, when Bath will be added to the group’s three-way Good Friday roster, alongside Lingfield and Newcastle, by staging its richest-ever raceday with £175,000 in prize-money, Hall says: “This represents a new era for Bath racecourse, and we can now welcome all customers, from racegoers to owners and trainers, as well as our corporate clients, to one of the smartest smaller racecourses in the country and the best events facilities in the region.”