GREYHOUND RACING in London looks set to become a thing of the as house builders George Wimpey are rumoured to have bought the famous Walthamstow track from its present owners, the Chandler family, for £35m.
With Wimbledon Stadium also a target to be sold off, the capital could see the end of nearly 80 years of racing by Easter next year.
One source says the track could be shut down as early as November this year, but other estimates say it is more likely to close next March 2006. Known as the ‘Ascot of the greyhound world’, Walthamstow is Britain's best-attended greyhound venue and has had punters flooding in under the Victor Chandler banner since 1933. The 11-acre site is earmarked by Wimpeys for redevelopment into a residential housing area.
Sources close to the situation commented in the national press recently that George Wimpey was "very keen" to acquire the site but added that talks with the family behind the Victor Chandler bookmaking empire, the registered owners of Walthamstow Stadium Limited, remained some way from a final agreement.
According to accounts filed at Companies House, Walthamstow Stadium has struggled to keep a lid on costs despite its status as Britain's best-attended greyhound racing venue.
Figures for the year to February 2004 show the company made an operating loss of just over £50,000 on turnover of £8.8m, compared with an operating profit of £128,000 on turnover of £8.4m the year before.
Neither Wimpey nor members of the Chandler family have been prepared to comment on the rumours of a sale.
The closure of Walthamstow Stadium as a greyhound-racing venue would leave just two tracks in London, at Wimbledon and Romford, and thus end a tradition that began in 1933. But even so, the Greyhound Racing Association is also thought to be looking to sell Wimbledon Stadium for development despite buying it only recently.
The stadium is on a large mortgage and while the track is covering its costs, it has made little profit. The Association are still hoping that racing will continue at the stadium if a compromise can be reached that will see only part of the site sold to a supermarket chain.