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    Oxford Stadium: A Journey of Ups and Downs
Oxford Stadium: A Journey of Ups and Downs
Oxford Stadium. Source: https://oxford-stadium.co.uk/

Oxford Stadium: A Journey of Ups and Downs

Oxford Stadium has a dynamic history marked by changing ownership and sponsorship, experiencing both prosperous times and periods of decline. Today, it stands as a modern complex with excellent infrastructure and a superb track, hosting live greyhound racing and speedway competitions.

Situated in Cowley, a suburb of Oxford, the stadium is near the BMW assembly plant where the Mini is currently produced. This location was once home to the workshops of Morris Motors Limited, a pioneer in the UK's automotive industry. 

History of the Opening of the Oxford Speedway and Greyhound Racing Stadium

The National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), established in 1928, has been at the forefront of organising and regulating greyhound racing in the UK. The club consisted of 12 stewards who held prominent societal positions, including former military and police officers, with one steward acting as the senior. The NGRC was known for strictly enforcing racing rules and maintaining security at each stadium to ensure fair races and catch cheaters.

Before the official establishment of the stadium, a makeshift dog racing track existed in a field near the Morris Motors plant. Greyhound owners trained their dogs there using a simple method: a car was driven with a jack under it, the car was started, and an improvised hare was pulled along a path by a cord wound around the wheel axle.

In 1938, it was decided to transform this informal "flapping" track into a proper sports stadium. By 1939, the newly built stadium in the suburbs began hosting speedway competitions and greyhound racing.

The inaugural horse races at the stadium took place on March 31, 1939. The event was graced by George Bowyer, 1st Baron Denham, a Member of Parliament and the House of Lords, and the Chief Steward of the NGRC. Baron Denham was a Conservative Party politician known for his toughness, energy, and enterprise. He was an animal lover, actively promoting greyhound racing while advocating against cruelty to greyhounds. During his tenure as Chief Steward, the racing rules were strictly enforced, and the welfare of the dogs was a top priority. 

Oxford Hippodrome track. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/
Oxford Hippodrome track. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/

From Wartime Struggles to Modern Decline

During World War II, Oxford Stadium experienced sporadic racing events. In 1944, a fire destroyed the main stand, necessitating a temporary closure for reconstruction. Despite the post-war challenges, the racecourse continued operations, and in 1949, Oxford trainer Joe Farrand's greyhound Narrogar Ann won the English Greyhound Derby.

The 1950s and 1960s marked a period of prosperity for Oxford Stadium. In 1964, it became one of only four stadiums in the UK to secure a BAGS contract, enabling it to host daytime races specifically for bookmakers.

The 1970s brought significant threats to the stadium's existence. In 1975, the management company Bristol Stadium Ltd reached an agreement with the Oxford Housing Authority to demolish the stadium for residential development. However, a dedicated initiative group succeeded in finding a new owner, Northern Sports, which purchased and revitalised the track, resulting in a temporary closure of several months during the transition.

In the 1980s, Oxford Stadium underwent extensive reconstruction, including the addition of a restaurant and a sports centre. These improvements led to increased attendance and betting turnover, establishing the stadium as one of the country's premier tracks. Notable victories during this time included trainer Tony Meek's Ringa Hustle winning the English Greyhound Derby in 1994 and Lutzi Miller's King of Magic winning the Skerry Gold Cup in 1993.

In the late 1990s, the Greyhound Racing Association (GRA), the largest racing operator, acquired Oxford Stadium. The GRA undertook further modernisation, including the demolition of old buildings, the construction of executive suites, and resurfacing of the track.

Despite these efforts, Oxford Stadium closed in 2012. The greyhound racing industry faced a decline in attendance and betting turnover, exacerbated by criticism from charitable organisations highlighting greyhound injuries and deaths. These factors contributed to a negative public perception of the sport, leading to financial difficulties and the eventual decision to demolish the stadium. Plans were made for a residential development comprising 75 houses and 150 apartments.

Race winner with a young fan. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/
Race winner with a young fan. Source: https://www.tripadvisor.com/

The Fight to Revive the Stadium

Oxford residents strongly opposed the residential development plans for Oxford Stadium. The City Council and a dedicated group of activists worked tirelessly to save the complex. Their efforts led to the stadium being included in the city's register of heritage assets—buildings, structures, and parks that, while not of architectural significance, contribute to the local economy and the health and well-being of Oxford's residents. This inclusion prevented the stadium's demolition.

In June 2021, Kevin Boothby, the track's manager, secured a 10-year lease for the stadium. By August 2022, the stadium had received a racecourse license under the GBGB Racing Rules. The first events were held in September 2022, marking the return of greyhound racing and speedway to Oxford.

Race participant. Source: https://insidersport.com/2021/
Race participant. Source: https://insidersport.com/2021/

Races and Events

In 2023, Oxford Stadium hosted the country's oldest race, the Hunt Cup, for the first time. Established in 1931, the Hunt Cup had been held at various racecourses until it ceased in 2008 due to the sale of Reading Stadium. Now, this prestigious Grade 1 race is sponsored by bookmaker Bet 365 in Oxford.

The Pall Mall Stakes, another Grade 1 race, began in 1935 at Harringay Stadium. After Harringay's closure in 1987, the race moved to Oxford. Although it was suspended in 2012 when Oxford Stadium closed, it was revived in 2023 with the reopening of the stadium.

Before the closure of Oxford Stadium, the classic Cesarewitch race (held from 2001 to 2012) and the Trafalgar Cup for puppies under two years of age (1999-2012) were prominent events. However, these races did not resume as they moved to other venues.

Significant races like the Oxfordshire Stakes and the Oxfordshire Gold Cup were key fixtures at Oxford. They were cancelled in 2012, and their return remains uncertain.

Located nearly three miles from Oxford city centre, the stadium now features three executive suites with panoramic views of the track, a fine restaurant, and a bar. Betting services are available, with operators ready to assist with understanding the racing card. The suites are popular for hosting guests during evenings and race nights.

Races are held during the day on Tuesdays and in the evenings on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays.

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