Ayr withdraws from the race to take control of troubled Musselburgh

As Scotland's biggest Flat meeting got under way, hopes of a union of two of the country's biggest tracks were dashed when Ayr revealed it had pulled out of the battle to take over Musselburgh.

Ayr had entered into the bidding process to take over the operation of the troubled track, whose governance has been unsettled for more than two years after disagreement between the local authority and racing representatives.

That led to the BHA stepping in to demand an independent governance review and resulted in the council deciding to allow the course to be run by a third-party operator.

Musselburgh's licence from the BHA expires on October 15 and the Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee (MRAC), set up by East Lothian Council last year to manage the track, is due to discuss progress towards identifying the successful operator next week. Arena Racing Company, Chester and the Jockey Club are understood to be potential suitors.

Speaking on the opening day of the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup meeting, the track's managing director David Brown said: "We were involved in the process but we've ceased our interest. We looked at the picture with regards to financials and felt it wasn't appropriate to take it further.

"The initial catalyst was the fact it was another Scottish course and there may have been synergies. At the early stage you investigate and take part in the process but you have to come to a decision and we took the view it wasn't in the best interests of Ayr.

"There are always disappointments with anything that doesn't come off, but the process was interesting. It was pretty rigorous but it was good to be part of it and I can't fault East Lothian Council."

Ayr expects a crowd of around 12,000 on Saturday compared to the 18,500 who attended the Scottish Grand National in April, and Brown puts this discrepancy down to the appeal of jump racing.

"When you look at some of the biggest betting races in UK racing they tend to be jump races, be they at Cheltenham, Aintree or the Scottish National, which is in that bracket," he said.

"There's no doubt consumers can look at jump racing and know horses, as they have longevity. Racing fans are not one-size-fits-all, but perhaps the jump racing resonates more."

Just two years after the entire Gold Cup meeting was lost to a drainage problem, the track has received a healthy vote of confidence from owners and trainers with more than 350 horses declared for 24 races over three days of the fixture this season.

That contrasts with field sizes elsewhere, notably at Doncaster, where just ten runners tackled the last three races on St Leger day, and Brown cites Ayr's efforts to cater for owners as a key factor.

"I don't know about other racecourses, but you have to think of the owners' experience," he said. "They are well looked after here and presumably enjoy coming. 

"We are an ROA gold course and think owners are hugely important, so we strive to give them the best possible experience."