Friendly Kelso on course to meet the economic challenge

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WHEN Alan Lee of The Times surveyed the UK’s various horseracing venues, he voted Kelso as Britain’s friendliest racecourse.

It’s an accolade Richard Landale, managing director of Kelso Races Ltd, and his team are proud of and one that they all work hard to live up to. But, in these times of economic challenge and with racing’s finances in a state of near crisis, Richard’s role is more difficult than ever.

Looking back on his successful 30-year association at Kelso, Richard finds it difficult to pick out individual highlights.

“We’ve had so many milestones, but putting on our first £10,000 race was very memorable,” he said, adding: “Also getting Sunday racing under way was important. Sundays are very successful for us.”

His infectious enthusiasm as he describes those key successes leaves you in no doubt that he relishes his task, but he explains that the changing economic picture has made life much more difficult.

“In my 30 years at Kelso we’ve increased the number of days we race each year from seven to 13. Finding sponsors for those races takes up a lot of my time, but we’re proud that over the last seven years we’ve managed to find a sponsor for every single race at the course – not many courses can say that.”

Those sponsors keep coming back, partly because the tightly-knit team Richard has built look after them so well and partly because of the investment in facilities.

Levy payments (money the course receives back from the bookmakers to subsidise prize money) have fallen significantly and this has been a huge headache for courses up and down the land.

“Our prize money level used to be at £800,000 per year, but is now only £600,000. Our levy payments have dropped from £49,000 to only £21,000 per day, and only £10,000 for Saturdays. That has been very difficult to counteract,” Richard explained.

As a result of those challenges prize money levels are still well below Richard’s personal target of £1million per year but, as he has always done, he’s constantly looking for new opportunities to bridge that gap.

“Television revenue is very important. Kelso is currently shown in 18 countries and we’re working to expand that.

“The important thing with prize money is that it allows us to improve the quality of our races, which is something that our customers love to see,” Richard said, before praising the loyalty Kelso Races commands among the community.

“We have the lowest catchment population within 30 miles, by some way, of any racecourse in the UK. But we do very well with attendances – our average attendance compares extremely favourably.”

Richard understands it’s the horse that is at the heart of the action.

“People love coming to see good horses. Peddlers Cross ran here immediately before he finished second in the Champion Hurdle and, of course, everyone was delighted when Ballabriggs, who’d had his prep run at Kelso, won the Grand National in April.”

Kelso’s unique family atmosphere is no accident.

“We employ local people, including pensioners, on our car parks, on the gate and throughout the course,” Richard pointed out, adding that on a busy day up to 200 people are on duty in one capacity or another.

“Because of their local connection many of our race-day staff are very proud of their racecourse and are welcoming and friendly. We also employ local caterers and contractors, and it all helps to foster the special atmosphere at the course that so many people comment on,” Richard said.

So what does the future hold for Kelso Races?

“We’re always looking forward and the goal for us is to keep putting on quality racing. To do that we need good prize money and we have clear targets for that,” he said. “Improving facilities is also important. We take nothing for granted at Kelso and we know that people only come back if they enjoy their day.”

Kelso hosts its final meeting of the year on December 29 and in that week’s Southern Reporter we’ll be joining Richard and a few of his team to look at what is involved in putting on a meeting at one of the Borders’ flagship sporting venues.