Chelmsford’s hopes of becoming the first floodlit turf racecourse in the UK has been hit with a further delay caused by the weather.
East Anglia is reporting its driest ever summer, with just 10mm of rain falling in the region since May.
And while the turf track has been built and laid – and bolstered by an extensive watering programme, the clerk of the course Andy Waitt has confirmed that racing on the grass at Chelmsford may be delayed until the spring.
“We’re pleased with the turf track which has excellent root growth,” he said.
“We’ve put nearly three million litres of water on it through the summer, and in an ideal world we would like to race in October, but that is subject to BHA approval and trials.
“However, due to the conditions we’ve had this summer, it may well be that it is now the spring when we get the track up and running.”
Forever Held Up
Home to one of the most popular all-weather tracks in the land, Chelmsford is aiming to become the first venue to host turf meetings under the lights in the UK. But the project – which first got underway as far back as 2017 – has experienced a catalogue of delays.
Building work initially began back in 2017, after a £3 million pitch to the local council was approved and planning permission granted. At the time, Chelmsford officials had given an ambitious target of April 2019 for the track to be open and operational.
However, a major spanner in the world duly came in March 2018 when their application for a turf track to run alongside their existing all-weather surface was turned down by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
The BHA would reconvene later that year and overturn their initial decision, on the premise that no more than three races on the turf could be held at any one meeting, with the others hosted on the all-weather course instead.
One of the qualms that the BHA had was in regards to the layout of the track, which sits just inside the all-weather set-up. The twisty, turny nature means that the turf course at Chelmsford will have some extremely tight turns – some observers have suggested this could be one of the tightest tracks in Britain when finally opened.
A lack of straight sections means that there’s only a couple of locations from which races can start from – hence the limits imposed on the number of uses per meeting.
Up and Running
The track was eventually laid and then running rails installed back in 2021, at which point Waitt was confident that floodlit turf racing would see its debut at the Essex venue this summer.
Things haven’t quite panned out that way, although American raider Wesley Ward did base his Royal Ascot squad on the turf track earlier this year. Campanelle would go on to finish third in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes as the best effort from Ward’s litany.
The situation was made worse by Storm Eunice back in February, which ripped down floodlights at the venue and caused other damages. Those have since been replaced by state-of-the-art lighting which cost some £2 million to install.
But, as it stands, the grass at Chelmsford Racecourse is good to go….for now, alas, the wait for evening turf racing in the UK continues.