Down Royal racecourse management seeking new home as lease expires

Down Royal currently hosts 12 race meetings every year
Down Royal currently hosts 12 race meetings every year

The long-time management team behind Down Royal racecourse has announced it is seeking “a new home” after a dispute with the site’s owners.

That won’t mean an end to racing at the existing Maze site, according to the course’s owners.

Dublin-based Merrion Group acquired the site in 2006 and recently announced its intention to remove the current management and take over.

The current management, the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders, had objected and a judge-led lands tribunal was to decide on the matter.

Now, however, the corporation has announced it is to close operations at the Maze site and seek a new home.

The move comes after their withdrawal from the tribunal process.

The Merrion Group, meanwhile, said it is “looking forward” to taking over the “the day to day operational management of Down Royal, with horse racing at its centre” in the new year.

A spokesperson for the current management said: “Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders, the organisation which runs Down Royal race course will close operations at the Maze site at the end of this year.

“The corporation has raced on the site for over 300 years and under lease for the last 35 of those years.

“This lease concludes on 31st December 2018 and possession will return to the current landlord.”

The corporation chairman, Jim Nicholson, said his committee will “now consider a number of sites which could accommodate a new race track and facilities to accommodate Down Royal’s 12 annual race meetings.”

He added: “We are facing new opportunities and there is every likelihood that Down Royal will find a new home.”

A spokesperson for Merrion Group said: “We have always stressed our determination to assume the day to day operational management of Down Royal, with horse racing at its centre.

“The withdrawal of the Down Royal Corporation of Horsebreeders from the lands tribunal process brings forward that outcome and we will continue our preparation to deliver horse racing from the beginning of 2019.

“We are looking forward to a new era at Down Royal and to enhancing the experience of race goers and other stakeholders while contributing to the local and wider community.

“We will maintain contact with local stakeholders, including political representatives and Lisburn and Castlereagh Council as we develop our plans. We are at the beginning of an exciting new era for Down Royal.”

Mr Nicholson added: “Down Royal’s approach was always based on a not-for-profit approach to ensure the racing sector in Northern Ireland, which employs between 2,000 and 2,500 people, benefited from raised standards and generous prize money.

“All profits have always been ploughed straight back into the sector. It is essential to the future of the sector that this contribution continue.”

The Down Royal Festival of Racing celebrates its 20th anniversary on Friday November 2 and Saturday November 3.