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Great Leighs founder vows: I won't make same mistakes.

Byline: Howard Wright

GREAT LEIGHS racecourse pioneer John Holmes yesterday vowed "not to make the same mistakes again", after he revealed that a new consortium of Essex businessmen, including Classicwinning owner-breeder Bill Gredley, was in the process of buying the operating company, which went into administration and was taken over by business advisory company Deloitte in mid-January.

Deloitte corporate finance partner Carlton Siddle, one of the joint administrators, confirmed yesterday's Racing Post revelation that a solution had been found to the ownership of the Essex County Showground Group, which opened Great Leighs in April 2008.

ECSG went into administration with debts of around pounds 24 million on January 16, when the BHA refused to grant a further temporary licence to race following the previous night's fixture.

Siddle took over the company, publicly anticipating a sale within about six weeks, but while an application for a racing licence was not pursued, complex lease arrangements involving facilities and access beyond the actual racing circuit proved a huge stumbling block, until now.

Yesterday Siddle said: "I'm pleased to say we've entered into an agreement for Great Leighs racecourse to be sold, as is, for an undisclosed sum to a consortium of Essex businessmen.

Completion is scheduled for September 29."

Siddle named Terry Chambers and Stetchworth-based Gredley, who owned Oaks winner User Friendly, as leaders of the consortium, but added: "I am aware of their relationship with John Holmes, so would not be surprised if there was a connection, though John is not going to be a director or among the officials of the company buying the racecourse."

While Great Leighs founder and racecourse chairman Holmes seems sure to play a lower profile in the new venture, there is no doubt his involvement will be crucial to the return to action of the all-weather track.

Pointing out that the sale of ECSG involved a new company, Great Leighs Holdings Ltd, Holmes said: "I'm dealing with the day-to-day issues, and my concern is to deliver a clean title for the racecourse, which will satisfy the funders, the new shareholders, the BHA and the racing industry.

"Many of the previous problems originated through my eagerness to get racing up and running, and to take on everything myself. I found myself wearing every hat under the sun, but the elements were against us.

"Now we need to have a proper formula. I've been given a second chance, and won't make the same mistakes again. I won't be given a third chance."

Holmes said there was much work to be done to allow completion by Deloitte's deadline, and no details had been finalised about what was needed to resume racing in 2011.

His immediate concern, he said, was to assess the financial situation on repurchase of the racecourse.

It is understood Royal Bank of Scotland, the major creditor, has walked away from the venture, writing off its considerable investment.

However, Holmes promised that "racing debts", such as those owed to suppliers of professional services, would be paid.

Looking ahead, Holmes said his priorities would include a permanent grandstand and a turf track.

CAPTION(S):

John Holmes at Great Leighs racecourse, which closed in January but could reopen in 2011 if the sale to a consortium goes through
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 9, 2009
Words:539
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