Potentially Great Leighs?

As I write this it is just 19 days until the 28th May when Great Leighs have their first meeting in which the paying public will be admitted.

Up to now meetings have been restricted to invited guests and the media, starting with just a couple of hundred and slightly increasing the numbers each time.

Last night it was my turn to rejoin the “full house” club – those of us who have attended all the racecourses in the U.K.  – as I made my first visit to the Essex course.

My initial impression was one of shock as the place does still resemble a building site – aesthetic it is not.

Access is pretty good with the main entrance being off the local by-pass, the very by-pass that almost scuppered plans to build the course. It was also pleasing to note that the parking was on a tarmac area – no having to park in muddy fields, a very promising start.

It is just a pity the parking was not controlled properly – yes it was “controlled”, however those marshalling the traffic did not appear to understand the basics of parking control. As I arrived almost two hours before racing I was placed in the first row, alongside the by-pass. So far so good.

When they started the second row they left the necessary gap between the rows of cars – unfortunately they filled the second row along the entire length of the car park with no gap at the end for cars in the first row to get out, effectively blocking in the entire first row. The only way cars in the first row could eventually escape was to find a gap in the second row and cut through – it was akin to driving through a maze.

Yes I appreciate the aim of these preview days is to iron out these sort of issues, however it is worrying that such a fundamental problem arose in the first place.

I was told to collect my media pass from the “main entrance”, which actually turned out to be hut in one corner of the car park – having said that the staff were, without fail, friendly and I was “processed” efficiently.

All the public facilities are currently located in the centre of the course and whilst an underpass is being constructed it is not yet open – consequently racegoers have to actually cross the track – it was quite interesting watching the local girls in their heels attempting to cross the polytrack course with some level of decorum.

There is a large, two storey, temporary stand along the length of the home straight, although only half of if has so far been fitted out internally.

As has been generally reported viewing is, at best, restricted. Plenty of big screens have been provided to aid viewing.

There are still teething problems, the grandstand seems to derive its power from a generator, which inconveniently decided to pack in after the fourth race. The toilets are of the temporary variety and the only beer came in bottles.

Bookmakers were also thin on the ground with only three standing.

Despite these rather limited facilities most racegoers seemed to be happy the only real gripes being about the poor viewing and they seemed to come more from connections.  

Viewing of the runners pre-race is very good with a fair size parade ring and the pre-parade ring located adjacent to it. The only permanent buildings on the site, the weighing room and owners & trainers facility are attractive and practical.

Perhaps, most importantly, the track itself is excellent, almost universally applauded by the professionals.

Great Leighs also seem to be making an effort to entertain their visitors. They had the combination of Darryl Williams and Derek Thompson doing the PA and there were plenty of interviews with visitors and connections.

In the longer term there will be a state of the art grandstand, on the “correct” side of the track, hopefully allowing proper viewing of the course.

Chairman John Holmes and his staff should be applauded for bringing racing to a part of the country which has been deprived of the sport.

They have faced many challenges both from officialdom and mother nature, any of which would have made less determined men get up and walk away. To his absolute credit John Holmes has managed to create a racecourse from nothing.

Nobody, least of all John Holmes, would argue the current setup is ideal, however they have arrived and in time the rough edges will be smoothed out. New permanent infrastructure will appear and we will hopefully end up with an excellent racecourse.

In the short term they may have to fight off some criticism and they still have plenty to do to be ready for May 28th – pleasing invited guests who are not paying is one thing – pleasing visitors who are having to pay £20 is something else.

Great Leighs may not yet be a Great course yet but it has the potential to become one.     


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