The answer to the question on every racing enthusiast’s mind since Kevin Boothby signed a ten year lease at Towcester can now be answered. Greyhound racing is scheduled to return on Saturday April 18.
It is the first stage of a whole new chapter for the Northamptonshire racecourse which will host a wide variety of new events and activities as the year wears on – plus, hopefully, the return of horse racing – writes Floyd Amphlett.
It was last October that Henlow promoter Boothby took over the 320 acre Towcester Racecourse estate. He has since spent hundreds of hours on-site drawing up strategies and appointing key personnel for what will be a very different operation to the business that went into receivership in 2018.
At this stage, GBGB are still to license the venue for greyhound racing though Boothby does not consider it to be a major issue.
He said: “I plan to contact Mark Bird (MD) next week and make arrangements. But there is no point in waiting until everything is in place before you call them to start to go through the process.
“Realistically, from a practical point of view, we could be racing again within six weeks. Most of the stadium, including the kennels and racing office, are as it was left.”
It has been suggested that GBGB may demand that Boothby pays a bond as a security following debts incurred by the previous management.
He replied: “I don’t anticipate any major problems. The Board licences the individual, not the premises, and I don’t owe them a penny. We will open for racing, one way or another.”
From a racing perspective, the heavy machinery needed to effectively rip up the racing circuit and start again, is due on site next week.
Boothby said: “All the sand will be dug up and a new membrane laid. Basically the previous membrane was a pile of big stones that the water just ran through.
“We found some paperwork which said it was impossible to keep the track in racing condition for more than 14 minutes in the height of the summer, before you needed to re-water. All the sand will be dug up and replaced with the same stuff as Henlow.
“As everyone accepts, the Towcester circuit is far too wide. At the bends they are eight and a half metres wide. The design was set up for eight dog racing which was a waste of time.
“We still have the traps, though they will be cut down and upgraded to six-runner boxes.
“We will push out the inside rail until the track it is around five and a half metres in width which will increase the size of the circuit. We may also need to reposition the hare rail.
“I have spoken to Gavin Smith who I am trying to get here as soon as possible but I can also call on Gordon Bissett (SIS), who is extremely knowledgeable. We are also having advertising boards fitted along the backstraight which will help protect the track from the wind.
A regular visitor to Romford, Boothby is a fan of their latest tote technology and has placed an order for the identical equipment. He is also hoping to trial an alternative to the Formnet racing system.
Later in the year, he plans to resurrect Towcester TV and directly control the content himself.
The opening meeting will be for a full card of sponsored open races (Winners £500, others £100) and then switch to a Friday/Saturday format. Saturday night meetings will be followed by live music.
Boothby said: “I haven’t decided on the prize money for the Saturdays but it will be decent. A lot of greyhound people have said that they want to support us and I would hope to stage one Category One competition every month.
“To be begin with, we may be looking to people within the industry, but I would hope that other corporate sponsors can be attracted from events we plan to stage here.
“We don’t have an SIS contract, but we don’t need one. Greyhound racing will probably account for less than 30% of our income when we are fully trading.
“The Friday nights will be for graded racing. We have plenty of trainers asking to join us, but at the moment we have around 85 dogs at Henlow that aren’t getting a race every week.
“You have to laugh at the irony. Towcester nearly closed us at Henlow when they took our dogs. Now the boot is on the other foot. The plan is for trainers to become dual attached though we will soon be finished on two ranges of kennels on-site.
“They are converted stables, great buildings with plenty of room in each. Between them, they will use 50 of the 100 stables so we still have another 50 for other uses.
“If at some stage SIS approached us with a contract, of course I would consider it, but it isn’t necessary in our business plan. In fact, if there was a spare meeting going at the moment, we could add an eighth meeting at Henlow overnight.
“Both our meetings will be £10 admission. Greyhound racing undersells itself all the time but we won’t, particularly for the product we will be offering. If people don’t like it, they can stay at home and watch RPGTV.
“We will also have deals for £20 including admission, free drinks, racecard, tote bet and hog roast. I want to move away from the standard ‘burger and chips’.
“In the longer term, I am planning a bid to stage the 2021 English Derby.”
Visitors to the updated Towcester website will notice greyhound racing joined by a growing menu of events that are being expanded virtually daily, with much more currently being finalised.
Boothby said: “Until I took over, I had no idea what Towcester Racecourse meant to the locals. It is huge for the local community and brings jobs and business to the town and surrounding area.
“Horse racing has always been popular and for that reason, I am meeting the secretaries of the point-to-point hunts. I don’t know whether there is time to fit in a meeting before the end of the season, but I would plan to hold some later in the year.
“Among the bigger projects are pop concerts. I had no idea just how big the site is until I drove to the far end and could see what a great venue it would make for a pop concert/music festival.
“We are also planning to purpose built marquee for 600 people on a piece of land behind the main grandstand. The people who ran the Winterland event are specialists in that type of structure.
“We have already been talking to people about opera nights and film festivals. We are also in discussions with Country (& Western) promoters. There are plans for food festivals, plus other things that I have spoken about previously.
“On a smaller scale, we have the opportunity for weddings and social events and the Spring and Summer Balls are already scheduled.”
As a site, Towcester has natural advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it has unlimited parking, soon to be updated with more hard-standing. The negative is the limited amount of local accommodation.
Given the expanded plans for the site, Boothby is considering investing in glamping pods. In fact, the pods may also be of interest to Silverstone which is around three miles away and are already in discussions over park and ride options.
There would also, presumably, be a few greyhound folk eyeing up a pod following a late night in the grandstand.
Towcester also has another great natural advantage not shared with most other greyhound tracks – flexibility in both size and facilities.
Boothby said: “We can cater for something as big as a music festival or as small as a private function. You can have racing taking place using the main grandstand, and something completely different in the smaller grandstand at the same time. You might even have a third event going on in the marquee and they wouldn’t affect each other.”
To make it all happen, Boothby has been building his sales and marketing team.
One of the first arrivals was events director Luke McLaren. His career began working as researcher on local BBC radio for Liz Kershaw. Reared locally, he has extensive knowledge of the Northamptonshire leisure scene.
He was followed through the door by the new media editor and strategist Anna-Louise Dearden. A journalist by profession, until recently ‘Anna Lou’ has been editing the Northamptonshire section of the hugely successful national lifestyle website Muddy Stilettos.
The racecourse have most recently appointed a new website and SEO provider and have two new marketing staff starting at the beginning of February.
While the return of Towcester will be generally warmly received by the greyhound industry, Boothby accepts that the response will be slightly cooler from some of his fellow promoters.
He says: “What do you want me to say? I don’t go to the promoters meetings because my voice won’t be heard. I do my own thing. When Henlow struggled after Towcester opened, nobody gave a damn about us.
“But having said all that, I think Towcester re-opening is good news for most people in the industry. I am not chasing a betting contract, we already have most of the dogs we will need, and at a time when people are questioning whether to carry on, a flagship track like Towcester only gives encouragement to owners and trainers no matter where they regularly race.
“We don’t ask for any financial assistance with our welfare and we will bring new people and new money into the game. Towcester will be a track that everyone can be proud of.”
There will be further updates including notification of the commencement of trials, planned for early March. In the meantime, here is a reminder of what you have been missing.