THE company set to become the new operators of Musselburgh Racecourse were warned not to try and rebrand it as Edinburgh Racecourse during a packed meeting.

More than 60 people were in attendance at Musselburgh Racecourse’s Queen’s Stand on Tuesday to hear East Lothian Council announce Chester Race Company as its preferred bidder to take over the management of the course.

It owns Chester Racecourse – the oldest course operating in the world after being established in 1539 – and also Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse, Wrexham.

And while negotiations between the company and the local authority were described as being at a very early stage, racecourse members were in no doubt about one thing: the name.

Pat O’Brien, former chairman of Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee and former Provost of East Lothian, told the new operators: “Don’t try and ‘relocate’ the racecourse and call it Edinburgh; it is Musselburgh and East Lothian and must remain that.”

His comment was met with a round of applause from the audience, who were at times frustrated by the lack of information available about what would happen when the new operators come in.

Carlo Grilli, East Lothian Council legal manager, announced the new operator to the meeting but warned that there was little additional information he provide at this time.

He said: “We are not going to rush this process: we want to make sure when the new operator comes in everything has been done right.”

And as he faced questions about why a new operator had been needed, he added: “There is no point in looking back, this is about the future.”

The racecourse – which is on Common Good land – was managed until last year by Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, which was made up of three elected East Lothian councillors and two members of Lothians Racing Syndicate, the latter representing racing interests.

However, relations between the two parties deteriorated in recent years and the British Horseracing Authority stepped in, threatening to withdraw its racing licence unless a review of the racecourse’s governance was carried out. The council replaced the committee with a new Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee (MRAC), which has four councillors and two racing experts on it, and agreed to find a third-party operator to take over the racecourse’s management.

Staff at the course were informed of the preferred bidder before a meeting, held in public, of MRAC.

It is understood that the appointment of Chester Race Company has been generally welcomed by staff at Musselburgh, who had been concerned a bigger company would come in and not make the course a priority.

The company operates its Chester course 365 days a year, attracting more than 300,000 visitors to race days and non-raceday events.

Bill Farnsworth, Musselburgh Racecourse general manager, said: “This is good news: they are very good operators and their well-established reputation of providing high-quality racing, for supporting owners and trainers and offering a five-star visitor experience for race-goers, are all values which chime strongly with the team at Musselburgh.

“We are excited about being part of this next chapter in Musselburgh’s 200-year-plus history and with Chester’s support we can ensure East Lothian will remain a top destination for the country’s leading racehorse owners and trainers.”

Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, who chairs MRAC, praised the work of council staff in the procurement process.

She said: “The council, Lothians Racing Syndicate and the staff of the course all agreed a third-party operator was the way forward and I am delighted by this news.”

Richard Thomas, chief executive of Chester Race Company said: “It is fantastic to now be able to say we have three racecourses spanning the British Isles.

“Musselburgh is a fantastic course at the heart of the East Lothian community and we are committed to ensuring its future is protected. We are excited to get started by working closely with the team and driving a successful handover.”

The new operators will take over for an initial lease term of 10 years.

Musselburgh Racecourse has 10 full-time and six permanent part-time staff, though race day numbers swell to more than 80, including catering staff.