Lunch in the Champions’ Gallery includes morning coffee, racecard, champagne, four-course lunch (“the proper kit”, according to Newmarket’s chairman, Peter Player) and full afternoon cream tea. It also includes a tariff of £200.The annual members are not amused. Two weeks ago they were invited on a tour of their spanking new premises. They were among the first around a five-storey edifice, the most valuable project undertaken on a British racecourse, a grandstand designed to accommodate up to 10,000 people.They saw the Devil’s Dyke self-service restaurant in Tattersalls which seats 200, and the 400-seater Champions’ Gallery, which in format, if not pricing, looks suspiciously like Walthamstow dog track. They may even have been seen from some way away themselves, as anything over 20ft tall on the East Anglian skyline is most visible. The Millennium Grandstand reaches up 34 metres and can be spotted from Ely Cathedral, 12 miles away.What the visitors failed to locate was the value in their membership.
Initial complaints were waved away as unrepresentative, but then communication flooded in. The Racing Post, the sport’s trade paper, reported around 50 letters arriving on their mat at the start of last week. The accusations in each were uniform.They started with price. If members wish to upgrade to the Millennium Club the annual cost rises from £230 to £500. In the new members’ area, they say, seating and viewing is unacceptable. Preference, it is believed, seems to have been given to those upstairs and the private boxes.
There has been talk of “a wasted opportunity”, “farce” and “betrayal”.There are 13 boxes on the top floor, virtually all of them designed for 20 guests. Half have been snapped up for the whole season and the remainder are available on a daily basis. The upper area offers the best viewing down what is a notoriously poor track for spectators. Members and those in Tattersalls have to monitor events from nearer ground level as those wealthier look down on them. It could be an allegory for life.Newmarket is not the first course and racing is not the first sport to incur wrath from regulars who consider they have been trampled over in the search for the corporate shilling. Goodwood and Newbury have also been condemned for their new stands.There were problems even before this.