There's a lot more to a racecourse in Yorkshire than horse racing
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:49 07 May 2013
From live music to matchmaking nights, there's a lot more to our racecourses than just racing. Chris Titley looks ahead to the new season.
Is there a more egalitarian sport than racing? True, it is the sport of kings, and there are plenty who roll up to the races in Rollers and flash enough cash to buy Bridlington. But there are many more who catch the bus to the course, would never punt more than a pound each way, and would probably have more fun with their mates than any thoroughbred-owning sheikh.
And unlike most sports, there’s something for all the family, from the toddler to his great grandma. It’s a cracking day out for everyone – and living in Yorkshire we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to racing.
No fewer than nine top class courses are dotted around our region, holding more than 170 meetings a year. And many of the runners and riders will be provided by one of the leading stables around Middleham and Malton.
The biggest winner is the economy. Racing brings in £230 million a year to Yorkshire, according to research by Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research. The sport directly employs 2,300 people full time, supporting another 800 in other jobs like tourism.
So it’s no surprise to learn that, with the new flat season upon us, our racecourses are working flat out to keep people coming.
Perhaps the highlight of Yorkshire racing last year was Frankel making it 13 wins out of 13 at York Racecourse. In beautiful sunshine he powered past the field to win the Juddmonte International Stakes by seven lengths in front of a huge Knavesmire crowd.
The course is not resting on past glories however. It has put forward a £5 million development plan for the northern end of the course. If approved the new scheme will create an integrated horse area to comprise new saddling boxes, a pre-parade ring, a wash down area, and a weighing room building alongside the existing parade ring.
‘Wonderful though it was to be able to welcome Frankel, the best racehorse in the world, as well as the 30,000 people intent on seeing him, to York, it did reinforce to me that we can improve things,’ said William Derby, chief executive and clerk of the course.
‘We have recently invested in the track, the stables, the stands, facilities for racegoers and other areas of the racecourse so it feels right to turn our intention to areas that last saw a major change over a hundred years ago.’
The racecourse has also announced record prize money in 2013 for the Welcome To Yorkshire Ebor Festival – £3.2 million – and a varied season of races. This includes the return of the popular music showcase weekend, this year featuring Kaiser Chiefs playing live after the racing programme is complete.
Frankel also features in one of the new developments at Doncaster Racecourse this year. A race won by the legendary horse as a two-year-old has been upgraded to listed status and renamed after a Twitter and Facebook competition. The race, part of the legendary Ladbrokes St Leger Festival, will be known as the Flying Scotsman Listed Conditions Stakes.
‘It seemed very apt as it was the fastest train in the country at the time and built in Doncaster,’ says Mark Spincer, the course’s managing director.
Over at Pontefract, they’re sure that born entertainers mingle among their race-day crowds. So they are running Pontefract’s Got Talent. If you can sing, crack jokes, dance, have a performing dog or entertain in other ways, they’d like to hear from you. The top ten acts will be chosen to perform in front of a panel of judges after racing on the evening of Friday, June 7th.
Those selected will gain free entry for themselves and two guests to the grandstand and paddock enclosure, and the winner will enjoy a VIP day out at the races in a private hospitality box, champagne and food.
Yorkshire’s garden racecourse, Ripon, is another venue which is upgrading its facilities. For the first time racegoers can enjoy a pint of cask ale as part of the refurbishment of the bars. Other improvements include a raised terrace area in the Jim Joel Bar, allowing punters to sit and watch the racing without having to rush to finish their drink.
Ripon has also introduced its new RiponBet facility, offering racegoers a range of popular fixed odds bet types at more than 50 betting windows across the course – the first system of its kind to be used in Yorkshire.
‘The opportunity to take ownership of the race day betting experience fits well with our business model here and retains our independence in the supply chain,’ said racecourse managing director James Hutchinson.
‘We now have a greater control of the service and staffing and the commercial model is also very compelling.’
Beverley Racecourse has installed a sprinkler system on its track and solar panels on its grandstand to provide green power. Pop in to the new Minster Bar terraced area and you can say hello to Woody, a horse sculpture made from driftwood.
It plays host to a number of themed days throughout the season, including the family May Day Raceday, with cute baby animals for the children to pet, the matchmaking Lucky In Love Race Night, and A Very British Race Day, complete with Pimms and Punch & Judy.
With Wetherby the reigning Best Small Racecourse of the Year in the North, as chosen by the Racegoers Club, and Catterick known as one of the friendliest courses on the circuit, Yorkshire’s title as Britain’s top racing region is secure.
Beverley (flat) 01482 867488 beverley-racecourse.co.uk
Catterick (flat and jump) 01748 811478 catterickbridge.co.uk
Doncaster (flat and jump) 01302 304200 doncaster-racecourse.co.uk
Pontefract (flat) 01977 781307 pontefract-races.co.uk
Ripon (flat) 01765 530530 ripon-races.co.uk
Thirsk (flat) 01845 522276 thirskracecourse.net
Wetherby (jump) 01937 582035 wetherbyracing.co.uk
York (flat) 01904 620911 yorkracecourse.co.uk
Redcar (flat) 01642 484068 redcarracing.co.uk