South West Wales

Council fears impact of Ffos Las racing fixture cutback

The impact of planned changes to fixtures at a Carmarthenshire racecourse next year could be felt around Wales, says a council leader.

The British Horseracing Authority plans to cap fixtures in 2012 to 1,400, due to concerns about declining horse numbers.

Ffos Las racecourse near Trimsaran says it faces a potential drop from from 29 to 16 or 17 race meetings next year.

Council leader Meryl Gravell said Ffos Las was "very significant".

Course owner Dai Walters said it would not be economically viable to operate on such restricted fixtures.

In 2009 Ffos Las became the first new turf horseracing course to open in Britain for around 80 years.

The course was built on an old mine and had hopes to challenge some of the best courses in Europe.

Mrs Gravell said pressure had to be applied to prevent any cuts to fixtures list at Ffos Las.

She said: "It's (the racecourse) very significant economically for the area and, of course, it brings in employment.

"We have several full-time employees there. Then, of course, the amount of people working there more than doubles (on race days)."

She said if Ffos Las suffered then local cafes, hotels, restaurants and pubs would too.

"The impact would not only have problems locally, but the whole of west Wales and probably Wales as well," she said.

Mrs Gravell ruled out supporting the racecourse financially from council funds if fixtures were cut, saying it was not easy for councils at the moment.

'Most unfair'

She added: "I think we certainly have to put pressure on those who are looking at the numbers of race days, and I will do whatever I can, with the force of the council behind me, to ensure we don't have any cuts."

Racing presenter for Channel Four and the Irish broadcaster RTE, Tom Lee, said he was "surprised and disappointed" by plans to cut fixtures at Ffos Las.

"I don't think it's an understatement to suggest that it might be a mistake of catastrophic proportions," said Mr Lee, who is also the son of Welsh horse racing trainer Richard Lee.

"The track brings in jobs, tourism, a real feel good factor to an area which needed a boost.

"There are 60 race tracks in Great Britain. If they're going to cut 80 meetings from the current schedule it seems most unfair to me that Ffos Las would lose a whopping 12.

"That's 15% of the entire brunt suffered by the country."

Of 29 fixtures scheduled for 2011 at Ffos Las, 13 are funded by the racecourse itself rather than with any form of central funding for prize-money.

Mr Walters told BBC Radio Wales on Monday Ffos Las stood to lose 30% of its fixtures because it was the newest racecourse.

Officials at Chepstow told BBC Wales they shared Mr Walters' concern, with the prospect of the number of fixtures dropping from 29 to 27.

At the start of June, the BHA suspended its 2012 fixture allocation process because of the uncertainty surrounding how fixtures would be funded due to the decline in levy funding.

The total number of fixtures is to be finalised by the end of September.

Ruth Quinn, director of racing at the BHA said the board had taken the decision as a bid to to protect the long term health of the sport.

"Horse numbers have been in steady decline since peaking in 2008 and, with the significantly reduced foal crops due to reach racing age, the sport cannot continue at its previous capacity."

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