OXFORD Stadium could have a new saviour as one of the UK’s biggest professional gamblers has revealed that he wants to buy it.
Speaking exclusively to the Oxford Mail, millionaire racing track promoter Harry Findlay said he had the team in place to take it on.
But last night property agent Savills, acting on behalf of developer Galliard Homes, refused to confirm or deny it had now backtracked on plans to demolish the stadium, owned by the Greyhound Racing Association, to make way for 220 homes.
Professional punter Mr Findlay, who part owned legendary 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winning race horse Denman, said: “I want to see racing, dog racing, speedway, back before Christmas, if not then by the start of spring.”
The 52-year-old said: “I’ve got the team in place. Most of those who were let go at Oxford came to work for me in Coventry and I want to put them back there.
“It has the heritage status, they can’t knock it down, and I absolutely want to buy it.
“I’ve turned Coventry into one of the best tracks on the planet in less than 15 months, and Oxford stadium is in a better location.
“Coventry was a gamble, Oxford isn’t, but it needs someone with balls to take it on and I am that man.
“What makes Oxford a no-brainer is it is in the perfect state for someone to take over. The location is perfect and all the facilities are still there.
“I’ve known dog racing at Oxford since I was a teenager and had some of my most memorable moments at that stadium.”
Coventry Stadium was empty for three years before gambling maestro Mr Findlay stepped in last year.
Now racing runs three night a week at the rejuvenated venue, which greyhound trainer Jeff Sealey said would form a blueprint for Oxford.
Mr Sealey, who runs Bicester Greyhound Schooling track, designed the Coventry track and has visited Oxford Stadium recently to feed information back to Mr Findlay.
He said: “There is a great love of greyhound racing in Oxford, and the stadium is in the perfect position.
“It’s a bit hush hush at the moment but we are definitely interested and are waiting for our chance to move.”
In July the Oxford Mail revealed plans to demolish the stadium and build 220 homes had been put on ice.
Savills wrote to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a bid to avoid carrying out impact tests.
Oxford City Council wrote to Mr Pickles for backing, insisting that the developers carried out an Environment Impact Assessment which could derail the plans.
The application has been listed as “forthcoming” on the council’s website but will not be discussed until official confirmation comes from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
City council leader Bob Price said a meeting would be taking place this month between himself and the potential buyers.
Mr Findlay’s team and representatives from Irish racing entrepreneur Paschal Taggart, who has also expressed an interest in buying the stadium will attend.
Former Oxford Stadium promotions manager Mick Wheble said: “There are two big-time players interested and it looks like racing could be back before long. It would be a huge boost to Oxford and this is what everyone wants to see.”
Deputy chairwoman of Blackbird Leys Parish Council and speedway fanatic Ann Booker said it would be a “dream” to see bike racing return.
She said: “My husband Paul proposed to me at the stadium, we had our reception there, and the place holds wonderful memories.
“I worked there for more than 30 years and it would be absolutely brilliant to see speedway return.”
Gavin Beckley of the Oxford Speedway Supporters club said: “Provided we have sympathetic owners, there is no reason why any business plan, including Mr Findlay’s, couldn’t make provision for speedway and make it successful. It would be fantastic to see it return.”
MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith said Galliard Homes should “do the right thing” and pull the application entirely.
He said: “It is great news for everyone who cares about the future of the stadium that with Harry Findlay we now have another successful and credible promoter who wants to run it for speedway, greyhound racing and all the other activities.
“It would be best all round if Galliard withdrew the housing application and sold or leased the stadium to one of the bidders who is really committed to making a success of it.”
Ian Sawyer, chairman for campaigners Save Oxford Stadium added: “This is great news for the group and a step in the right direction.
“From what we understand the owners are now willing to talk about selling rather than leasing or knocking down the stadium so that is positive.”
Neither the Greyhound Racing Association, Oxford City Council or DCLG responded to our requests for a comment.
WHO IS HE?
The “larger than life” manager of Coventry Stadium “Flash” Harry Findlay, 52, is one of the UK’s highest profile gamblers.
He says he has lost and won fortunes “in the blink of an eye” since he first placed bets on greyhounds as teenager in Slough.
Mr Findlay, above, grew up in Brighton. He said his affinity with betting at Oxford Stadium dates back to the 1970s.
Since then he has built an empire which stretches into horse-racing, and was co-owner of National Hunt champion racehorse Denman.
He claimed to have lost £2.5million on horses, but won £11.5m on other sports.
Coventry’s Brandon Stadium stopped trading in December 2009 but Mr Findlay took it on in 2012 and now runs three dog-racing nights each week.