Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing situation plus news from Belle Vue which is now for sale

Belle Vue has gone up for sale - get the latest from our columnist

Belle Vue Stadium, the famous Manchester venue which is the original home of greyhound racing, is up for sale.

That was the dramatic news from the Friends of Belle Vue Stadium (FOBVS) on Wednesday night as site owners Crown Oil Pension Fund put the freehold for the famous stadium in Gorton up for sale - increasing hopes that the stadium can be saved from demolition.

Formerly owned by the GRA, the track had been leased in the recent past by track operators Arc but failed to reopen after lockdown.

Redundancies were made and the site, which had been previously used for greyhound and stock car racing, has remained dormant since - stripped of its fixtures and fittings.

Planning permission had been successfully sought by Crown Oil, but given Belle Vue was in 2018 granted an Asset of Community Value (AVC) opposition to it being turned into housing has been fierce.

Simon Walmsley, chair of the FOBVS group, is due to meet MPs in Westminster next week - and news that Belle Vue's supporters now have the legal right to bid for the site will be welcomed by greyhound racing and sports fans alike.

The first greyhound race under rules was staged at Belle Vue on July 14, 1926, and the track celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2016. Despite a lack of investment, it hosted big crowds for its weekend meetings.

Reacting to the news from Manchester City Council that the freehold for the site was now available, Walmsley said: “Whilst it’s very early days in the process, it’s encouraging to know there is keen interest in seeing the stadium continue, which is what we’ve worked hard to protect.

“Crown Oil are looking to realise around £3.7m for the site and builders would aim to clear around £4m for the sale of the houses. The crux is you’re looking at a single-figure sum in terms of the millions needed to buy the Freehold.”

“We have had some early interest from potential investors and we will work towards putting a serious bid forward. This is one of the best situated tracks in the country in terms of bringing in crowds - we were still very busy pre-lockdown as the crowds were good.”

Walmsley added: “I accept these are testing times and what has happened in the world has made things harder still. If anyone is interested in pursuing this as an option, then I’m more than happy to talk to them.”

The overwhelming desire is to see Belle Vue return as a seven-day-a-week sporting arena with a variety of activities and businesses within its surrounds - but with greyhound racing and stock car racing at its heart.

One source said: “They could have a blank canvas at Belle Vue - and even if the desire was to have social housing on the site, look at how the ‘new’ Shelbourne Park was designed with apartments surrounding the track. It’s a much sought-after place to live!

“Manchester is one of the world’s great cities, a real sporting giant. Getting the ACV on the site from Manchester City Council was a fantastic move given it’s on a list with Old Trafford no less, so Belle Vue Stadium is in very good company. Hopefully, it’s here to stay.”

Hear, hear.

All in place for 2020 highlight

Racing-wise, the semi-finals of the RPGTV 74th East Anglian Greyhound Derby took place at Yarmouth on Wednesday - and next week’s final will be one of the high points of the racing year.

Before then, the semi-finals of both the Coral Champion Stakes and Coral Romford Puppy Cup take place at Romford on Friday - with a GBGB Category One double-header taking place at the Essex venue the following week.

This Friday’s card at Romford will see customers allowed in for the first time, following sister track Crayford opening its doors on Tuesday - mainly to owners who filled socially-distanced tables.

However, promoters have been waiting for the finer detail of the Government’s latest restrictions to combat coronavirus - with many tracks nervous of how the guidelines might affect them.

Charity event to tee-off

Golf fans are looking forward to a huge week ahead. No, not the US Open at Winged Foot, the upcoming GOSH Charity Golf Day at Stapleford Abbots, Essex.

Taking place on Wednesday, September 16, a few celebrities from the sporting world will join a host of greyhound owners and fans of the sport to raise money in a socially-distanced environment for the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.

The day includes a silent auction with a batch of fantastic lots which can be bid for - now!

These include the following:

*A day out for four at Newmarket including visits and breakfast at Phil Cunningham’s Sefton Lodge Stables with trainer Richard Spencer, a trip to Swynford Manor Stud, John Ryan’s Cadland Stables and then Mohamed Moubarak’s Linden Lodge Stables - then for lunch and afternoon racing at Newmarket Racecourse.

*A day out Gary Moore’s stables in East Sussex, followed by lunch and afternoon racing at Brighton Racecourse.

*A day out Fergal O’Brien’s stables near Cheltehham, starting with breakfast and then a tour of stables.

*A Red Arrows Flying Suit, which belonged to Wing Commander David Montenegro ‘Monty’ OBE MA RAF, who is now commander in charge of the entire 130-strong Red Arrows team.

*A statue of Henry Cooper, the British sporting icon.

The auction closes at 6pm on Friday, September 18, and the successful bidders will be announced on RPGTV.

For further information, silent auction bids and sponsorship opportunities (£500 per hole) contact John Fox at john_p_fox@hotmail.com.

And finally...

Well done to Derby joint-sponsors Star Sports for once again backing the Media Derby Tipping Challenge.

Bragging rights will be at stake across the month of October, with RPGTV Jason Barrasford the reigning champion. Previous winners were the Racing Post’s Jonathan Kay (2018) and Hove legend Patrick Kelly (2017).

Look out for a few new names in the reckoning for this year’s competition - and one or two you might definitely recognise!

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