Towcester racecourse: unique among Britain’s racecourses
PICTURE: David Dew (racingpost.com/photos)
By David Ashforth 5:50PM 4 OCT 2016
TOWCESTER, which races on Wednesday, exerts a lasting fascination. Sorry if you’ve read some of this before but the elderly tend to repeat themselves and, anyway, you may have been asleep.
It’s all down to the idiosyncratic 3rd Baron Hesketh, who owns the racecourse, the only one in Britain not to belong to the Racecourse Association. Having left the RCA in 2004, seven years later the former Conservative chief whip in the House of Lords and Party Treasurer left the Conservative Party and joined UKIP. Lord Hesketh, who inherited the title at the age of four, in 1955, has always been a maverick.
Towcester has long been one of my favourite jumps courses but as a business it has also long been bizarre and not only because of its unique attachment to a policy of free admission.
The racecourse company’s recently submitted financial statements for the year ended December 31 2015, although abbreviated and unaudited, which is entirely legitimate, allow us to update Towcester’s unique and troubled commercial history.
During the four years ended June 2011 Towcester lost £1.9 million and ended the period with net liabilities of £7.5 million of which £5.6 million was owed to family trusts and related parties. In 2011 GG Media Ltd, set up in 2001 to exploit media rights, was dissolved.
Another subsidiary, GG.com Ltd, intended to exploit interactive betting, made a pre-tax loss of over £2.2 million in the nine years ended June 2011 and, having registered losses in 2014 and 2015, had a deficit of capital and reserves of almost £1 million
The parent company, Towcester Racecourse Ltd, ended 2015 with a cumulative profit and loss account figure of minus £12.7 million and a deficit in shareholder funds of £3.2 million. Among its considerable debts Towcester owed more than £4.4 million to the Trustees of the 2nd Baron Hesketh’s Will Trust. A repayment date of July 2016 had been pushed forward a year and “no enforcement action will be taken in respect of the breach of the financial covenants in respect of the year ended December 31 2015.”
In what has become a regular feature of Towcester’s accounts, the company remains a going concern only because of the stated commitment of Hesketh and family trusts to provide continued support.
Greyhound racing, which now takes place three times a week, was launched at the end of 2014. Sadly, Towcester’s 17 horseracing fixtures have been cut to a mere 10, all midweek. Unsurprisingly, in 2014 Towcester’s executive and sponsors average contribution to prize money was lower than any other jumps course apart from Leicester.
Perhaps Towcester will eventually be saved by the dogs and two new directors, Sebastian Taylor and Simon Nicholls, were appointed last October. Taylor, 64, was then a retired Swiss resident investor, former backgammon expert and friend of the Rothschilds. Nicholls, 47, was a Hong Kong resident and former director of GG.com.
The question, as it has been for some time, is how much longer will Lord Hesketh, 65, hang on to Towcester?
Meanwhile, Spring Steel doesn’t look too awful, so he’ll probably win the 3.20.