THE trouble with getting older is not that your memory falters but that it often works too well.

I remember Edinburgh racecourse – they didn’t even call it by its correct name back then probably because they were so ashamed of it – of the eighties when it only raced on Monday afternoons and always had small fields. The poor cuddies had to race on an inferior track, and as for the punters, who were very much fewer in number compared to other courses, they had to suffer extremely poor facilities as did the owners and trainers who actually provided the racing.

The course struggled for sponsorship and hospitality bookings and frankly it was the Cinderella course of Scotland – only it didn’t get to the ball at all. In the early 1990s, it almost went out of business.

Then something wonderful happened. A succession of racing professionals got a hold of the management and some very shrewd East Lothian councillors – Labour, mostly – saw the light and managed to get in some serious finance including seven figure grants from Europe.

The Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee was formed in 1994 involving knowledgeable councillors and professionals from the Lothian Racing Syndicate, and the possibility of creating a serious visitor attraction spurred them on. Now we have in Musselburgh the best small racecourse in the UK – and that’s not just my view, it has won the award for being so, as well as five stars from VisitScotland.

Today the future of the racecourse will be decided when East Lothian Council meets in SECRET – shame, shame, shame – to vote on a proposal to make the course an ‘associate committee’ of the Council, subject to council rules and employees being taken on by the council. That would be an utter disaster, not least because the British Horseracing Authority which licenses the track will not be happy. The BHA will probably withdraw the licence and Musselburgh would close.

Think it can’t happen? Ask the good people of Hereford who lost their council-owned racecourse for four years from 2012 when the council fell out with the Arena company that managed the course – racing only restarted when the council and Arena started talking again.

East Lothian Council’s ruling Labour-Tory coalition is attempting a “power grab” and I can’t help thinking they are doing so to use the profits from the racecourse to eke out their own hard-pressed budget.

It has already been rumoured that once in control, the Council will cancel the high profile race days with six figure prize money, such as The Cheltenham Trials weekend, and replace them with lower quality races with minimum prize money.

I hope that’s not the case, for owners and trainers will just go elsewhere as better prize money and equally good facilities can usually be found closer to home.

The Council as a body has absolutely no idea of the competitiveness and dynamics within the racing industry, and actually told the consultants Pinsent Masons, who reviewed the course’s governance, of their ignorance about racecourse management.

The councillors in East Lothian collectively know hee-haw about racing. I am told at least one of the current councillor members of the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee has never attended a race meeting there and those who do have done so infrequently.

I know that the council continues to deny it’s a power grab and have no plans to divert monies from the racecourse.

So how come discussions today will take place behind closed doors for ‘commercial reasons’ as we have been told? That’s just utter nonsense and only serves to heighten the suspicion that the council is up to nefarious activities.

The decision will no doubt be pushed through by the Labour-Tory coalition which has not allowed either of the two SNP members for Musselburgh – of four for the area in total – on the Racing Committee, which is frankly anti-democratic and shameful. Oh, sorry, I forgot we are talking about Labour and the Tories here, and what either party knows about democracy and integrity could be written in yard-high letters on a bookie’s slip.

I predict that if the changes are forced through, there will be a strike by the trade unionists at the course, none of whom were properly consulted. There will be very expensive legal action against the Council which it will lose. And all the time the course will remain closed as the BHA will not allow racing to be run by amateurs.

I have a very radical proposal for East Lothian Council. Why not ask the people of Musselburgh what they think? After all, they own the course through the Common Good Fund, while the Council owns the buildings.

But that won’t happen because small political minds always ignore what the public wants.


It’s a theory of mine that you can always tell when somebody has been well beaten when they blame the referee.

So didn’t you just love it that England fans – a minority it must be said – just couldn’t take their resounding defeat and turned on Nigel Owens?

By all means greet about the referee, but at least do it when he is wrong and not perfectly correct as Owens most certainly was in all his major decisions.