Newmarket row over giving the Devil's its due

It may not be a Bastille or even a Millennium Dome, but, down Suffolk way, Newmarket's new £16m grandstand is a building which has got some of the troops agitated.

It may not be a Bastille or even a Millennium Dome, but, down Suffolk way, Newmarket's new £16m grandstand is a building which has got some of the troops agitated.

The Queen will officially open the Millennium Grandstand on 6 May, 2,000 Guineas day. If the monarch is feeling a little bit peckish it is to be hoped she has held back some Maundy money. Lunch in the Champions' Gallery includes morning coffee, racecard, champagne, four-course lunch ("the proper kit", according to Newmarket's chairman, Peter Player) and full afternoon cream tea. It also includes a tariff of £200.

The annual members are not amused. Two weeks ago they were invited on a tour of their spanking new premises. They were among the first around a five-storey edifice, the most valuable project undertaken on a British racecourse, a grandstand designed to accommodate up to 10,000 people.

They saw the Devil's Dyke self-service restaurant in Tattersalls which seats 200, and the 400-seater Champions' Gallery, which in format, if not pricing, looks suspiciously like Walthamstow dog track. They may even have been seen from some way away themselves, as anything over 20ft tall on the East Anglian skyline is most visible. The Millennium Grandstand reaches up 34 metres and can be spotted from Ely Cathedral, 12 miles away.

What the visitors failed to locate was the value in their membership. Initial complaints were waved away as unrepresentative, but then communication flooded in. The Racing Post, the sport's trade paper, reported around 50 letters arriving on their mat at the start of last week. The accusations in each were uniform.

They started with price. If members wish to upgrade to the Millennium Club the annual cost rises from £230 to £500. In the new members' area, they say, seating and viewing is unacceptable. Preference, it is believed, seems to have been given to those upstairs and the private boxes. There has been talk of "a wasted opportunity", "farce" and "betrayal".

There are 13 boxes on the top floor, virtually all of them designed for 20 guests. Half have been snapped up for the whole season and the remainder are available on a daily basis. The upper area offers the best viewing down what is a notoriously poor track for spectators. Members and those in Tattersalls have to monitor events from nearer ground level as those wealthier look down on them. It could be an allegory for life.

Newmarket is not the first course and racing is not the first sport to incur wrath from regulars who consider they have been trampled over in the search for the corporate shilling. Goodwood and Newbury have also been condemned for their new stands.

There were problems even before this. High winds hampered crane work and removed portions of the roof. Pilferers removed televisions. "Filching has been going on," Player said yesterday. "That's why pictures aren't up everywhere."

It is the possible theft of credit for his masterplan which upsets the chairman most. He is already reviewing the seating arrangement in the combined Millennium Club and Jockey Club area. "Constructive criticism is helpful," Player said, "but there can be too much criticism for criticism's sake. Sometimes you feel like telling them to piddle off."

The real noises will come next Tuesday, when the facilities are used for the first time at the Craven meeting. "We are already looking at the comments that were made and changes are being made with regard to the restaurant," Player said. "This is a suck-it-and-see job. You have no idea how anything is going to work."

The Chairman admits to being shaken by the reaction to his new premises. "I was taken aback by how venemous some of it was," he said. "I'm easily hurt because I care so passionately about it. If people's expectations were greater than what we've provided for I can only apologise. Obviously in their eyes we did get it wrong. So who am I to argue? But we've tried to strike a balance between all our customers.

"I don't think it reflects badly [on us]. We're very keen to address as many of the constructive comments that have been made. But I cannot put a timescale on for legal and operational reasons. When we see how the building works on raceday and what the demand is, one would be a fool if one didn't say one was going to react as best one could."

All the big guns were there yesterday. The trainers Cecil, Stoute, Cumani, Balding and Hills lended authority, while the men from Sagitta, the Guineas sponsors, were probably hoping that an element apart from customer dissatisfaction was to be the topic of the day.

What is unclear is the numbers which will gather in the members' area of the Millennium Grandstand this season. Memberships have been relinquished and Peter Player fears a pattern may have been set. "People have to make a choice about what they see on offer," he said. "Membership is around 2,000. But it might go down."

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all