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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor