Racing: Frying pan off the back burner

Ambitious plan to reopen Alexandra Park and attract City slickers to a unique horseracing track

IT WAS the quirkiest course in Britain. Celebrated for its atmosphere but reviled for the treacherous twists and turns of its "frying pan" shape, Alexandra Park was nothing if not controversial.

Since its closure in 1970, the course has slumbered quietly at the base of Alexandra Palace, dog walkers striding unaware past the still existing rails. But now, the thunder of hooves could replace the thud of wellies with a proposal by a local company to resurrect the course. Success would see City crowds dropping their stress levels and picking up their betting slips within 16 minutes of finishing work, courtesy of a direct rail link from Moorgate in the heart of the city to Alexandra Park.

Noel Farrar, Jim Fahey and Jon Kanareck, under the name FFK Racing, are the architects of the project - one of a number of independent proposals jostling at the starting gate for permission to develop at the Palace, which is regarded as a financial white elephant by its governing borough of Haringey, north London.

Despite its history, the course barely flickers in recent local memory. Only collections of race-day memorabilia at local pubs such as the Starting Gate and Victoria Stakes and the ghost of an outline of the course itself betray any of its past. Racing began at Alexandra Park in 1868 on a uniquely shaped track that could stage races over only three distances: five furlongs, one mile and one mile five furlongs.

With the five-furlong start obscured by trees and the impossibility of an uninterrupted view of round- course races, the track was eccentric rather than user-friendly. Jockeys, too, found the course far from hospitable, many agreeing with Willie Carson's verdict that the place wanted bombing.

The critics won the day and, despite gaining in popularity when evening racing was initiated in 1955, the course was closed 15 years later. So why reopen it at all? Will it succeed second time around, or merely be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire?

"There's a lot more money now in recreational activities than there was in the 1970s and it's the perfect time to reopen Ally Pally as a community based, corporate funded, family oriented venue," Farrar says.

It is an opinion endorsed by the pundit John McCririck, who is so enamoured of the course that he wants his ashes scattered at its furlong post.

"London needs a course at its heart, like Longchamps, which has a fantastic atmosphere. Evenings at the Park had the same quality, he said. The key to the project is getting the support and enthusiasm of the community; without that it stands no chance. But my one ambition is to see the frying pan reopened and anything I can do to help, I will."

While FFK may not match John McCririck for after-life commitment to Alexandra Park, they are nevertheless resolute in pursuit of viable racing for north London, citing a monopoly of racetracks to the south-west of the capital.

Rescuing Alexandra Park from the graveyard is the latest in a stream of proposals to open new racecourses in an attempt to buck a long trend for closing them. Not since Chepstow in the 1920s has a new racing venue seen the light in Britain but there are drawing-board plans for several new tracks, with proposals by Arena Leisure for one at Thurrock, in Essex, leading the way.

History and a ready-made racecourse may yet see Alexandra Park pip them at the post. Proposals have been made to the British Horseracing Board and, vitally, to the trustees of the palace. Both have expressed interest, yet reserved commitment, the BHB with a cautious "wait and see", the trustees with one eye to the complicated legal and planning restrictions of the palace.

Not open to debate is the BHB criteria for new racecourses which Alexandra Park must fulfil to get its licence and fixtures; criteria that hinge on finance and safety - the original Achilles heels of Alexandra Park. Applicants must show provision of sufficient capital based on a sustainable business plan, from sources other than the Levy Board, as well as a significant input to prize-money from executive or sponsorship contribution. FFK is confident it can achieve both of these.

The key factor is the course's proximity to the wealthy and, FFK hopes, willing City crowds who will fund it with corporate sponsorship and entertaining. "We expect to have 100 per-cent independent finance in development, upkeep and prize money, made possible by the unique location in London and the type of track that it will be," Kanareck says.

But it is the type of track that it once was that causes concerned mutterings. With tight bends and cambers and going that was often firm or hard, one good downpour could render the turf diabolically slippery. A safety limit of 20 runners per race is likely to be enforced at the new course and racing on an all-weather surface is under consideration.

Fixtures will have to be found either by transferring from within the present list or, as FFK hopes, by creating new ones. The BHB is prepared to consider granting up to 10 new fixtures, at its discretion, to an approved new racecourse, and quite exceptionally might increase that, provided the racecourse is of "a size, quality and design comparable to the best in the country".

Whether or not Alexandra Park will stand up to such scrutiny, should it get the planning green light, remains to be seen. But ambitious FFK are confident that Alexandra Park will stand among its peers once again and prove that, although they are backing a dark horse, it is an outsider rather than a non-runner.




Londoners used to flock to evening meetings but attendances declined and losses mounted to pounds 5,000 a year.



Minor jump track near Badminton, Gloucs. Still stages point-to-points.



Used to attract crowds of up to 80,000 but sold for housing development.



Proximity to an explosives factory proved fatal in a Levy Board purge on racecourses thought surplus to requirements.



Sold to investment company with no will to keep it going. Stages point- to-points.



Sold for housing development. Turf used to lay out a jumps course at Ascot which now stages the Hurst Park Novice Chase.



Tricky, tight circuit and poorly attended during final days.



Poor prize-money, facilities and fixture slots hastened its demise.



Attracted too few runners. Lincoln Handicap (horses in board game Totopoly are all past winners) switched to Doncaster.



Sold for housing redevelopment. November Handicap moved to Doncaster.



Once home of the Welsh Champion Hurdle, it closed amid bankruptcy rumours.



Another considered surplus to requirements in a Levy Board 1960s purge.



Flop as a Flat venue, despite once luring Lester Piggott with appearance money.



Sacrificed to preserve other courses after Levy Board withdrew subsidy.



Had dangerous bends and no funds to bring it up to new Jockey Club standards.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada