6 October 2016 – The Times
After a four-year hiatus, racing returns to Hereford today. Many believed that the course would be shut permanently after being closed in December 2012, with its owner, Arena Racing Company (ARC, having already shut Folkestone that year.
Now, with a new man at the helm of ARC, which runs 16 courses, the track will reopen today. Martin Cruddace, who was appointed chief executive 14 months ago, undertook a review, drew up a business plan and made his case to the secretive Reuben brothers, Arc’s majority shareholders. They backed him, as they did his proposals for significant investment at Newcastle, Bath, Yarmouth and Uttoxeter. It has been a multi-million pound overhaul of the assets which has produced a wave of positive sentiment and goodwill towards Arc and helped to turn perception of the company and its motives on its head.
Arc’s quota of fixtures will grow from 509 to 540 meetings in 2017. As part of the remedial work Cruddace and his management team, armed with paint brushes and determination, spent two days lending a hand. Cruddace whose grandfather was a master builder, painted the gates between stable yard and the paddock, and a window frame in the stable wall. “It wasn’t symbolic, it was proper work, over two days,” he said.
What triggered the change of heart? “A number of trainers bent my ear about Hereford,” Cruddace said. “I knew it would be well supported — as the entries have shown — but at the same time I have to make hard-headed business decisions and this is a hard-headed business decision, as much as romantically I completely buy into it as I am big National Hunt fan. “The response has been incredibly encouraging. The feedback has been incredible from trainers and everyone and I hope they continue to support it with entries and horses.”
Potential for the group, he believes, is far-reaching. A revamp of the sport’s overall fixture list for 2017 increased ARC’s quota from 509 to 540 meetings, which adds to the value of media rights. “Media rights are vital to the commercial viability of the racetrack,” he said. The feedback has been incredible from trainers and everyone and I hope they continue to support it with entries and horses. “There are also economies of scale the more courses you have, in terms of procurement staffing, back office and asset maintenance. Whether or not we are going to buy additional racecourses, that is one for the future.”
He remains optimistic, too, that the future for the industry as a whole is rosy, especially once the vexed question of the new racing right to replace the levy is secured and provides a viable, sustainable platform. “I think it is on the cusp of something pretty special. Much depends on the government. “We anticipate the government will help end the decline of the levy as business migrates from retail to online. I think there will be a settlement — it is a question of how much. Once we have certainty we will see new owners, better prize money and get ourselves into a healthy, virtuous circle.”