Belfast Telegraph

Down Royal's last race meeting will be on Boxing Day

Down Royal could be closing its doors for the last time on December 31
Down Royal could be closing its doors for the last time on December 31
Headline news: how we reported the story back in May this year
Devastated: Jim Nicholson

By Jim Gracey

Confirmation that top class horse racing may cease at Down Royal racecourse, in its present form, is a hammer blow to the sport, the bloodstock industry and hospitality sector.

Boxing Day will see the last race meeting staged by the present management, the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders, who announced yesterday they will close operations at the Maze site on December 31.

It signalled an acceptance of defeat by the organisation in their five-month fight to remain after the course landowner, Dublin property developer Mike Roden, informed the Down Royal management earlier this year that he would not be renewing their lease.

Fears that they could be fighting a losing battle were first flagged up when news of the impending order to quit was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph in a front page story on May 9 this year.

Summer Murdock, Pip Naseby, Emma Oliver and Lauren Wilson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Summer Murdock, Pip Naseby, Emma Oliver and Lauren Wilson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Lorraine Milne and Audrey Spence pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Una Boyd, Sarah Wilson and Sarah Leathem pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Shauna O'Rourke, Shauna McPeake and Maria McCloskey pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Hannah Henry and Jemma Guthrie pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening RACE 2 APPLE ORCHARD HANDICAP Jennifer Moore from Magners, makes a presentation to trainer of Haqeeba, Liam Lennon and winning owners Maurice McCavitt and James McParland. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Shauna O'Rourke, Martin O'Rourke, Brendan McPeake, Shauna McPeake, Maria McCloskey and Ronan McCloskey pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Una Boyd, Sarah Wilson, Sarah Leathem and Eoghan McKenna pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening James Price, Matthew Tosh, Rory Glass and Paul Birt pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Liz and Wilton Paton pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening RACE 3 - IRISH STALLION FARMS EBF MAIDEN (PLUS 10 RACE) No Needs Never ridden by Donnacha O'Brien wins the 3rd race at Down Royal. Max Ervine makes a presentation to Ronan, Anne-Marie, Sarah and Katie Fitzpatrick on behalf of the owners. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Mairead McConnell, Con Lam and Jaime Henderson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Sarah Stewart, Roz Leathem, Lesley-Ann Diffin and Cherish Andrews pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening Una Boyd, Sarah Wilson and Sarah Leathem pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening 6TH RACE - MAGNERS ORIGINAL APPRENTICE HANDICAP Sennockian Star ridden by Dylan Hogan wins the 6th race at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening 6TH RACE - MAGNERS ORIGINAL APPRENTICE HANDICAP Sennockian Star ridden by Dylan Hogan wins the 6th race at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening 6TH RACE - MAGNERS ORIGINAL APPRENTICE HANDICAP Ross Hegarty from Magners, makes a presentation to Shane Butler on behalf of the owners of Sennockian Star, winner of the 6th race at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening RACE 5 - HER MAJESTY'S PLATE (LISTED RACE) Twilight Payment ridden by Kevin Manning wins the 5th race at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th July 2018 Down Royal Races - Magners Cider Race evening RACE 5 - HER MAJESTY'S PLATE (LISTED RACE) Lord Lieutenant of County Down, Mr David Lindsay makes a presentation to Joe Osborne on behalf of the winning owner of Twilight Payment at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

At that time, Mr Roden stated his intention to continue the 300-year-old tradition of racing at the course. This was reiterated by his group in a statement yesterday, saying: "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 racegoers and other stakeholders while contributing to the local and wider community."

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse.
Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Sinead Begley, Ellen McCann and Orla Nutley pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Sarah-Jayne McGill and Ellen Moloney pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Lauren McIvor and Carla Armstrong pictured at the County Down racecourse.
Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Catriona Graham, Kirsty Lavery, Mary Shannon, Roisin Rafferty, Caoimhe Conlon and Laoise McKenna pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Amy Kelly, Julie Bogan, Cora Marlow and Aoife Cathcart pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Eimear Doyle and Dervla Dolan pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Emma Best, Amie Mullan, Dearbhaile McClean, Aine Finey, Gemma Maguire Aoibhin McCool pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Harley Semple, Claire Melville and Aoife Ramsay pictured at the County Down racecourse.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Lalita Ossawy and Christine Ossawy pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Emma Ward, Shannon Kennan and Emma Devlin pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. A racegoers enjoys the weather at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Matthew Slevin, Monica McCaffrey and Mark McCaffrey pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Seona McCann and guests pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Maeve McCullagh and Aoife McConnell pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Paul and Belinda Johnston pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Bernard Hargreaves, Geraldine Hargreaves, Peter Hart and Barbara Hart pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Pauric McGurn, Terence Donnelly and Niall Moane pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Donna McAuley and Daniel Kille pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Lisa Stewart and Chris Brennan pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Gerald and Bridget Greene pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Kevin Dundass, Mary Dundass, Siobhan Ward and Francis Ward pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Sinead Begley, Ellen McCann and Orla Nutley pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Pamela Ballantine and Caroline Todd pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR BEGINNERS CHASE Peace News, ridden by Davy Russell wins the 4th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR BEGINNERS CHASE Peace News, ridden by Davy Russell wins the 4th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR BEGINNERS CHASE Peace News, ridden by Davy Russell wins the 4th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR BEGINNERS CHASE General view of the 4th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR HANDICAP CHASE Drumconnor Lad ridden by jockey Roger Loughran wins the 5th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR HANDICAP CHASE Drumconnor Lad ridden by jockey Roger Loughran wins the 5th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR HANDICAP CHASE Graham Keys, owner of Drumconnor Lad with jockey Roger Loughran. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. DAILY MIRROR HANDICAP CHASE Drumconnor Lad ridden by jockey Roger Loughran wins the 5th race. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers watch jockeys at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 7th May 2018 - May Day Meeting at Down Royal Racecourse. Racegoers pictured at the County Down racecourse. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

But there are hurdles to be overcome that could prove insurmountable. A major stumbling block is the Northern Ireland Horse Racing Fund overseen by the Department of Agriculture. With no Assembly and no Minister for Agriculture in place, the fund cannot be transferred from the Down Royal Corporation to the landlord. In addition, Horse Racing Ireland prepare the annual fixture list and only they could transfer the Down Royal fixtures for next year to an approved entity.

The current course management, meanwhile, have stated their intention to identify a new site to start over again.

That would mean finding an expanse of land suitable for the construction of a race course within Co Down, as stipulated by the Corporation charter. Planning permission would also have to be sought and a roads infrastructure put in place.

Yesterday's news was met with regret by leading horse racing figures, including legendary former champion jockey AP McCoy.

He said: "Obviously the Maze was the first racecourse I ever went to or rode around so it is very sad to hear this news.

"I was lucky enough to ride a winner there in my early days for (trainer) Ian Ferguson which meant a lot as I've known him since I was a child."

Danielle McGleenan, Katherina McQuillan, Natalie Gray and Louise McGleenan pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye.
Danielle McGleenan, Katherina McQuillan, Natalie Gray and Louise McGleenan pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Danielle Finlay and Hayley Young pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Caoimhe Scullion, Mairead McFerran, Shauna-Marie McMullan, Jade Devlin, and Kerri Bradley pictured at Down Royal Racecourse. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 Pictured: Sabina Galloway, Steven Smith, and Michaela Wright. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Danielle Telford and Laura Davis pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. David Boyles, Colm Durey, Chanelle Conway and Norma Conway pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Siobhan Magee and Sophie Wright pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Kelsey and Louis Taylor pictured at Down Royal Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Natalie Gray, Katherina McQuillan, Danielle McGleenan, and Louise McGleenan pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 Pictured: Natalie Gray, Katherina McQuillan, Danielle McGleenan, and Louise McGleenan. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Kelsey Taylor, Brian Cave and Louis Taylor pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Kelsey and Louis Taylor pictured at Down Royal Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Evie Harley, Margaret Courtney, Elaine Roulston, and Nicola White pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
PressEye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 Pictured: Natalie Gray, Louise McGleenan, Danielle McGleenan and Katherina McQuillan. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Edel O'Connor and Ciara Daly pictured at Down Royal. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Pam Gourley, Chanelle Conway, Beatrice Atcheson and James Davidson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Fergal O'Kane, Hannah Irvine, James McLornan and Neil Taylor pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Gareth Rogan, Kara Brennan, Lee-Anne Brennan and Neil McRobbie pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. John Crawford, Sara Rodgers, Ciara Carberry and Conor McGinn pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Mark Cobain, Valerie Thompson, Michael McCrory and Adam Wilson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Leanne Valentine and Victoria Quinn pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Leanne Valentine and Victoria Quinn pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Caoimhe Scullion, Jude Devlin, Mairead McFeeran and Shauna-Marie McMullan pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. John and Margaret Palmer pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Robert Hall, James Atkinson, Joshua Reed and Scott Neville pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Pam Gourley, Chanelle Conway, Beatrice Atcheson and James Davidson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Trevor Magill, Nigel Maxwell and Geoff Johnston pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Sharon and Gareth Latus pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Martin White, Nicola White, Elaine Roulston and Stuart Roulston pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Ben Daggett, Trevor McCrum, Kevin McAviney and Greg McClamonds pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Steven Murphy, Paul Diver, Alison McCluskey and Shane Haffey pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Evie Harley, James Courtney, Margaret Courtney, Kevin Courtney and Michael McCormack pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Michael McCormack, Tom Greene and Lorne Greene pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Sara Ordered and Richard McLaughlin pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Michael McCrory and David Rea pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Philip Jones, Phil Miller, Rab Millen and Pail Hill pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Michael McCrory and Valerie Thompson pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Steve Foster, Jim Crossey, Catherine Cleave and John Mairs pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Chris Williams and Martin Reynolds pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Seona Millar, Gary Millar and Niamh Millar pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Siobhan Magee and Sophie Wright pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Lisa McAdam and Sarah McFadden pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Mervyn Watters, Patrick McGleenan, Damian McGleenan, Justin McKee and Paddy Digby pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Mark Cobain, Kat Fox and Gareth Montgomery pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Kate and Bronagh Moran pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Martin O'Kane, Josie O'Kane, Sean McIlhinney, Geraldine McIlhinney, Maria Cartan and Catherine McLaughlin pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Cathal Wilde, Mairead Condon, Alison Frazer and Glenn Frazer pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 31st August 2018 - Musgrave NI Race Day at Down Royal Racecourse. Kate and Bronagh Moran pictured at Down Royal. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Fellow Ulsterman Richard Dunwoody, also a former champion jockey and twice Grand National winner, added: "I am very sad. Since watching my father riding and training winners there in the late 60s and early 70s, I have enjoyed many happy days at the Maze, not only riding around the course but since retiring from the saddle it was always an honour to be invited over by Mike Todd and Jim Nicholson to help promote racing there. It is particularly incongruous as the course was voted Irish Racecourse of the Year just last year."

There will also be dismay in the horse racing industry at any loss of a showcase venue that has provided top class racing since the present management, headed by chairman Jim Nicholson, the noted wine merchant, and general manager Mike Todd, began a transformation in 1996 that led to the investment of more than £5m in the facilities as a not-for profit organisation.

Down Royal's final £1m November Festival next month, which will now become a poignant occasion, has become recognised as a testing ground for Cheltenham Festival hopefuls the following March.

With tens of thousands of racegoers passing through the gates each year, it would be a loss to the sport's followers and the hospitality industry which caters for them.

It is unclear what will happen to the 11 full-time course staff. Race events support 400 part-time jobs, mostly in hospitality, while the site also incorporates Down Royal golf club.

In a statement, the Corporation said it would like to thank "everyone who has made the racecourse the top class racing and social venue it undoubtedly is. The committee, ground staff, management team, sponsors and contractors have all played a vital part in the delivery of world class race days for all the supporters of Northern Irish racing. "

Jim Nicholson said his committee will now consider a number of sites which could accommodate a new racetrack and facilities to accommodate Down Royal's 12 annual race meetings.

"We are facing new opportunities and there is every likelihood that Down Royal will find a new home," he said.

"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 continues.

"I want to acknowledge the generosity of our sponsors, many of whom have been quietly but significantly helping fund programmes such as youth work experience, apprenticeships and other essential schemes aimed at helping people out of unemployment."

The course was previously owned by the late, respected racehorse owner and entrepreneur Kelso Stewart. After his death in 2005 it was sold to the Merrion Property Group which paid £6.1m for the site which they are now reclaiming.

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