Irish Racing has been hit with a huge shock after it was released that Down Royal Racecourse could be closed at the end of the year. This comes as a bombshell in the racing world as the Grade 1 track is the current HRI's reigning racecourse of the year and it was preparing itself ready for a big jumps season ahead that has started over the past week.
The courses management had been in a big a big debate between the company that owns the actual racecourse, The Dublin situated Merrion Property Group and the Down Royal Cooperation of Horse Breeders after Merrion was looking to evict the Horse Breeders from a track they have managed since the new ownership had taken over in 2005 for €6.1 million.
A press release was broadcasted yesterday by the existing management stating that they are getting ready to wind down operations at the Maze site at the end of the year. Their final ever meeting would be their most prominent cards of the year in the two day fixture they put on at the start of November. The lease they have at the moment finishes on 31st December and if this is not renewed there will be no more racing from Down Royal Racecourse.
However, not long after the first statement from the racecourse, another one was released but by Merrion this time and they stated the opposite and that they had plans to take over the course on January 1st and run it as a going concern.
All Punters and people in involved with the racecourse are left in limbo and especially the current management as it is unlikely they will carry on under the new owners but nothing is certain.
(Credit Racing Post, Merrion released this statement:
"The withdrawal of the Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders from the Lands Tribunal process brings forward that outcome and we will continue our preparation to deliver horse racing from the beginning of 2019.
"We are looking forward to a new era at Down Royal and to enhancing the experience of racegoers and other stakeholders while contributing to the local and wider community.
"We will maintain contact with local stakeholders, including political representatives and Lisburn and Castlereagh Council as we develop our plans. We are at the beginning of an exciting new era for Down Royal."
Down Royal Racecourse holds a tradition of racing for around 333 years and it would be sad to see this come at an end but HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh says talks were already planned for next week to get the course sorted, but this development has shocked everyone.
(Credit Racing Post) He said:"It's a sad day and the news has come as a bit of a shock," he said.
"We were aware of a dispute between the new owners and racecourse management and understood it was going through a legal process in Northern Ireland. We were awaiting the outcome of that process.
"We'd like to sit down with both parties to establish what the situation is and we have a meeting in the pipeline with Mike Roden which will possibly take place next week. "Down Royal has done a great job not only for racing in Northern Ireland but for Irish racing in general. It has been a flagship for racing in Northern Ireland and always been a go-ahead, progressive racecourse."
Another statement was then released by the Chairman of the racecourse, Jim Nicholson and shed more light on the goings on behind the scenes at Down Royal.
(Credit Racing Post) The Chairman said:" "We are facing new opportunities and there is every likelihood that Down Royal will find a new home.
"Down Royal's approach was always based on a not-for-profit approach to ensure the racing sector in Northern Ireland, which employs between 2,000 and 2,500 people, benefited from raised standards and generous prize-money.
"All profits have always been ploughed straight back into the sector. It is essential to the future of the sector that this contribution continues.
"I want to acknowledge the generosity of our sponsors many of whom have been quietly but significantly helping fund programmes such as youth work experience, apprenticeships and other essential schemes aimed at helping people out of unemployment."
Down Royal, which could hold its final day's racing on Boxing Day of this year has been drafted to have 12 more race days for next year.