Racing: Manchester aims to revive glorious racing history

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The Independent Online

More than 40 years after Lester Piggott drew huge crowds to its breathtaking last meeting, £100m plans have been unveiled to revive Manchester's horseracing traditions with a new course in the city.

More than 40 years after Lester Piggott drew huge crowds to its breathtaking last meeting, £100m plans have been unveiled to revive Manchester's horseracing traditions with a new course in the city.

The only substantial remnant of the old Manchester Racecourse is the 1961 members' stand, which was the first in Britain to have executive boxes and has since been converted into a students' union building. But memories of the old Manchester Gold Cup and the city's first "classic" - the fledgling St Leger Stakes, which was staged before a crowd of 56,000 in September 1941 - have prompted the revival plans.

There is no chance of rebuilding the old course which opened at Castle Irwell in 1902, since a Salford University student village has been built in the middle of it. The land development company Peel Holdings has an alternative 1,700-acre site near by for the new track in Worsley. It envisages 30 meetings a year, attracting 20,000 punters a time and promises a return of the city's Gold Cup.

The facility will include a three-tier glass grandstand for 6,000 racegoers, an oval floodlit track, and equestrian facilities, including indoor and outdoor arenas, providing international dressage and showjumping venues.

"We have tried to create an all-weather grandstand so that if it is raining, which it sometimes does in Manchester, you can stay in the building and see all the racing," said the course architect, Neil Southwell. "The winner's enclosure would be right in front of the stand." Manchester's unsuccessful attempts to stage the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and its eventual capture of the 2002 Commonwealth Games have bequeathed a rich mix of international sporting venues for tennis, squash, cycling and swimming, but the city has seen its old rival Liverpool reap all the benefits of horseracing at its Aintree course. This month's Grand National is estimated to have generated up to £40m for Merseyside.

In Castle Irwell's heyday its November Handicap and Lancashire Oaks, now run at Haydock Park in Lancashire, were the coveted prizes. The 1941 St Leger was to prove the venue's only classic; the course was subsequently taken over by the Ministry of Supply for the war effort. It was eventually sold to a property company in 1963. The firm planned to build houses on it but was opposed by Salford Council, which favoured using the site for playing fields and halls of residence for the local college of technology, now Salford University.

Peel, which also owns the £600m retail Trafford Centre and recently announced plans to revive port facilities on the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford, has included a woodland area in the racecourse plans. Two new vehicle entrances, including a new M60 spur, are included to appease residents who thwarted similar plans two years ago. Salford council's leader has welcomed the proposals.

Now all Manchester needs is races. After hosting champion jockeys such as Gordon Rich- ards and Steve Donoghue, its last November Handicap was a thriller: Scobie Breasley pipped Lester Piggott and clinched the jockeys' championship.

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