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Dundalk given the go-ahead for EUR12m redevelopment.

Byline: Michael Clower

THE grandstand at Dundalk will be demolished next month and the County Louth course, which has not raced for over a year, plans to resume in May 2004.

The contract for the development of a combined racecourse and greyhound stadium was signed on Monday and the directors outlined plans at a reception in the Ballymascanlon Hotel near the racecourse that evening.

Chairman Leo McCauley said: "The facilities at both the racecourse and the greyhound track were in need of substantial upgrading and discussions between the two companies started in 1997. We decided to merge and a new company, Dundalk Racing 1999, was set up.

"The builders will be on site in less than four weeks and the new stand will take 14 months to complete. We will be back racing in time for the May meeting in 2004, although the greyhounds will start before then.

"We will probably still not be able to race through the winter, but we will be able to race more often because we are carrying out substantial drainage work on the course."

Dermot Ahern, Minister for Communications, Marine and National Resources, believes the rebuilt racecourse will be a big success.

He said: "The Dundalk area suffered for many years because of its location close to the border, but thanks to the peace process there has since been a huge vote of confidence in the area which is equidistant to the two biggest centres of population [Dublin and Belfast] in this island.

"This is now the driving force for this type of development and I have no doubt that people will come here in droves."

The EUR12 million cost is being met by a EUR5m-plus grant from Bord na gCon and from the sale of 20 acres for housing and a hotel. This has necessitated the length of the course being reduced by a furlong.

A further EUR3m is needed to rebuild the stable block and construct a new parade ring. The directors hope that Horse Racing Ireland will put up most of the money for this, particularly as its Irish Horseracing Authority predecessor did so little to advance the project.

One director said: "We submitted a detailed business plan to them and they laughed at us. They said `why should we subsidise greyhound racing?'"

McCauley added: "Bord na gCon chairman Pascall Taggart was extremely enthusiastic and promised us a substantial grant almost straight away, but we did not meet the same degree of enthusiasm from the IHA.

"However, we recently met HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh. He was much more positive, and as a result we are hopeful of getting support for the second phase of the development."

Taggart also commented on the IHA's attitude, saying: "The racing people have not been as forward-thinking as we have been but hopefully they will be surprised, because I believe the project will be a fantastic success."

The Dundalk directors are also unhappy about HRI's rejection of its proposal to turn the course into an all-weather track.

Director Colm McCourt said: "If we had been given the go-ahead we would have scrapped the grass course and concentrated on all-weather racing.

"We believe we are perfectly situated for such a track because in two years' time the motorway will run from Dublin to the course, and there will be a similar dual carriageway from Belfast. We will then be less than an hour's drive from each capital."

CAPTION(S):

Dermot Ahern "People will come to Dundalk in droves"
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 18, 2002
Words:582
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