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Racing: Brighton's future is `secure'

Even the mist that so frequently rolls in from the sea fails to disguise the fact that Brighton, one of the country's oldest racecourses, is certainly among the most dilapidated. Fears that it could become the first British track to shut since Stockton in 1981 have been growing, writes Chris Corrigan.

`Scarper Pinky, it's the law,' runs a well-known line from the 1947 thriller Brighton Rock. In the film, Pinky and his vicious gang work the local track. At least in those days, though, Brighton racecourse had a swagger about it.

Its downland setting offered spectacular views across the Channel. At one time Brighton's mid-summer racing festival was a fashionable next stop after Glorious Goodwood.

But last night Brighton and Hove Council were in the position of urgently seeking to play down anxiety that the course is in jeopardy.

Its future appeared to be in question following a decision by the council, who run the track, to turn down a plan for a pounds 20m facelift, including a hotel and sports bar open 364 days a year.

Arena Plc, who manage Brighton along with Lingfield, Folkestone, Plumpton and Fontwell, announced they would pull out after their proposal was turned down. Arena wanted a 60-year lease.

Graham Parr, Arena's chief executive, said: "I firmly believe that unless substantial monies are forthcoming for the buildings, and redevelopment of the track, serious problems will occur in the not too distant future.

"However, I also understand the lessees position with regard to retaining control of what they regard as a community facility. But it was not the intention of Arena Leisure to remove the community aspect, only to improve the facilities available to all the ratepayers of Brighton.''

One report yesterday suggested that Stan Clarke, a leading racehorse owner whose company have developed the tracks at Uttoxeter and Newcastle, had shown an interest in Brighton.

But last night Clarke told The Independent: ``It's news to me. It is only today that I've heard Arena are pulling out.''

A Brighton council spokesman said last night: "The course is in no danger whatsoever.

``We have been seeking a company to manage the course and have had presentations from Arena Leisure and another unnamed company. We hope to announce our decision in the next few weeks.

"This partnership will enable the racing facilities to be improved with substantial financial investment. The idea is to have racing as the core activity on a course fit to compete in the first division of UK race venues."

Jayne Moore, wife of local trainer Gary Moore, said yesterday: ``It would be appalling if we lost Brighton. When Lewes racecourse closed it was turned into an executive housing estate.''