In the beginning, 1816 in Musselburgh’s case, racecourses were established essentially as sporting venues for the very rich and the aristocracy to race their horses against one another - hence the name ‘Sport of Kings’ which attracted huge crowds. Even as recently as the 1950’s, post war Britain was hungry for entertainment and racecourses offered the only source for a legal bet. At Musselburgh, crowds in excess of 15,000 were commonplace and people were packed in like sardines! However, racing was still very much ‘The Sport of Kings’ and racecourses did not require to be commercially operated.
In 1963 the Government made betting shops legal whilst at the same time competition for the leisure pound began to increase. Attendances went into rapid decline and some racecourses were bankrupt including Lanark and Bogside in Scotland. In the 1980’s Musselburgh Racecourse was widely being touted as the next one likely to bite the dust. In 1987 racecourses received a much needed financial boost when new technology enabled them to sell pictures of races to the betting shops. Without this Musselburgh Racecourse would not be here today.
A New Dawn for Musselburgh
However, going into the 1990’s the racecourse was still losing money and the future looked desperate. In 1991 a new dawn arrived at Musselburgh when East Lothian Council took in the running of the Racecourse from the Lothian’s Racing Syndicate Limited (LRS). The Chief Executive at East Lothian Council was tasked to bring the racecourse to a breakeven position in one year, which remarkably was achieved. Once again the racecourse had a future.
In 1994 Provost Pat O’Brien was instrumental in setting up the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) to run the racecourse. The MJRC is a partnership, which still exists today, between the Lothian’s Racing Syndicate Limited and East Lothian Council. The Committee is made up of four Council Representatives and three representatives from the LRS. The racecourse itself sits on Musselburgh Common Good Land and East Lothian Council own all the facilities and assets e.g. the grandstands & stables. The MJRC pay a full commercial rent for use of the land and facilities to both the Common Good Fund and ELC.
Upon the establishment of the MJRC the financial situation continued to improve and in 1995 a visionary and very ambitious investment programme was put in place.
More than £7.5 million has since been invested into the facilities at Musselburgh Racecourse (from 1995), and the results include a prestigious new hospitality stand (The Queen’s Stand), the refurbishment of the Edwardian Grandstand and all public areas, the building of the Links Pavilion housing many essential facilities for customers, a new weighing room and entrance complexes, a new parade ring, new stables and groundstaff facilities and extensive landscaping plus improvements to the track itself.
Since 1999 attendances have rocketed from 38,000 to over 70,000 per annum with sponsorship, corporate hospitality and prize money more than doubled. Today Musselburgh Racecourse is a thriving business and one of Edinburgh and Lothian’s top leisure and sporting venues. Indeed Musselburgh Racecourse is now rated as a 5 Star Visitor Attraction and is firmly established as one of ‘The Best Small Racecourses’ in Great Britain, with a reputation for quality and innovation.