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It’s been over 5 months since there was last racing at Pontefract and after a particularly testing year in 2018 the West Yorkshire track is getting ready to kick off their 16 day campaign on Tuesday, 9th April.
Managing Director, Norman Gundill MBE, explained to guests at the course’s annual Press Lunch how, despite one of the hottest, driest Summers in history in 2018, the Racecourse still fell foul of the elements with the first meeting of last season abandoned due to waterlogging and rain falling on 10 of the other 15 racedays. The hot, sunny weather between race meetings also had a huge impact on the number of horses running on the track with the ground often being unseasonably quick and the extremes in weather resulted in a drop in total attendances through the season. This additionally had a knock on effect on racing tips for UK and Irish horse racing.
Looking ahead to the season ahead, however, Norman Gundill outlined some exciting plans and, in particular, some fantastic new developments in the Enclosures at the forward thinking West Yorkshire track.
Following on from the large scale renovation to the Pre-Parade Ring, Parade Ring and Horsewalk over the last two years, the Racecourse has carried out a number of improvements to the Enclosures in 2019.
The first thing that racegoers will notice is the changes to the layout. Both the Premier and Grandstand & Paddock Enclosures have been increased in size and the old Silver and Picnic Enclosures have been amalgamated to form one new, large Picnic Enclosure. With more room available in each of the updated enclosures, the new layout provides a better set up for all racegoers.
In conjunction with the changes to the Enclosures, the old ‘Riders Bar’ is being completely refurbished and renamed ‘Pizza In The Paddock’ and will open in time for the first evening race meeting of the season on Friday Eve 24th May. Offering freshly cooked pizzas and craft ale, the ‘Pizza In the Paddock’ will also have a brand new large terraced area offering racegoers more seating and a fantastic alternative location to watch the racing.
Owners and Trainers visiting Pontefract in 2019 will also have a new facility as their old bar has been almost tripled in size by taking in and knocking through ‘behind the scenes’ storage areas as well as an old tote building. Improving the calibre of horse running at Pontefract is high on the wish list of the executive and to achieve this, the Racecourse is mindful that their offering for Owners must live up to their expectations.
There will also be a new Wi-Fi system with racegoers being able to connect to a hugely improved, faster system.
Wakefield MDC will also construct a Health and Wellbeing Centre in the Park. This will include a 25m swimming pool, gym, tennis courts and a 3G football pitch and will provide a Café, toilets and formal parking giving the Park a much needed daily focal point. Work is due to start shortly and to be completed in the Autumn of 2020. Parking for Racegoers will be altered with immediate effect.
The Government’s decision firstly to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2, and secondly to bring forward the introduction date to 1 April has, as anyone who follows the sport will know, caused considerable consternation, and has resulted in much speculation about the number of Betting Shops which will close and the effect that will have on Media Rights income. The only certainty is that, for the first time since Media Rights income became significant, there will be a noticeable downturn in income. With prize money having to be committed before knowing what the Media Rights income will be, Racecourse prize money has featured heavily in the pages of the racing press recently.
The provisional total prizemoney budget for Pontefract in 2019 will be just under £1.2million (down from £1.3million in 2018). This will, however, be monitored closely and, if the projected reduction in Media Rights income does not materialise, the Racecourse will reinstate some of the reductions.
Although the Racecourse’s contribution has reduced, they will still be unlocking *ALL the race incentive and appearance money payments for horses in all Class 4 and 5 races. All races will still be run above minimum value and the prizemoney on all three Sundays will remain at at least £100,000.
On the track
Despite the challenges of 2018,there was some excellent racing during the season.
The Listed race winners were of a good standard with Manuela De Vega, trained by Ralph Beckett and ridden by Harry Bentley, the standout performer in the EBF Silver Tankard Stakes. She finished the season unbeaten with a two year old rating of 99. She is generally quoted at around 25-1 for the Epsom Oaks.
Clon Coulis, trained by David Baron and ridden by Ben Curtis, ended the season with a rating of 101 following her win in the Weatherbys Pipalong Stakes at Pontefract and a follow up in another Listed race at Ascot.
Isabel De Urbina, also trained by Ralph Beckett and ridden by Harry Bentley, won the totepool Pontefract Castle Stakes and had a solid record in Listed races and ended her season rated 99. Similar comments also apply to Big Country, trained by Mick Appleby and ridden by Silvestre De Sousa, who won the Skybet Go Racing in Yorkshire Pomfret Stakes and ended his season with a rating of 109.
Pontefract have been hoping to upgrade their flagship Listed Race, the EBF Highfield Farm Flying Fillies Stakes to a Group 3 for some time. In a year when Mabs Cross was a standout sprinting filly, a field of fillies and mares made up of those that regularly competed in both Group and Handicap races, was assembled for the 2018 renewal but there was something of a shock when Castle Hill Cassie, trained by Ben Haslam and ridden by Graham Lee, took the honours at 20-1. Her mark has now risen to 100 following more improved performances, and she continues to look as though she can improve on her mark granted her ideal conditions. The rating was, however, not sufficient to enable the track to upgrade the race for the 2019 season but the prize money for this race will be £60,000 once again.
The Racecourse were robbed of another big Mark Johnston headline (following his 4,000th winner being at Pontefract) when he had a chance to break the record for the most winners when Lynwood Gold lined up on
the 29th July. Unfortunately the horse hadn’t read the script and stayed in the stalls, giving the others a near 20 length start.
The Racecourse introduced Music Nights at their two Friday Evening Meetings in 2015. Following Bucks Fizz, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle and The Bootleg Beatles, the incredible Billy Ocean will be playing on 80s Night on Friday Eve 24th May. On Friday Eve 19th July, the Racecourse’s new Abba Night will welcome one of the UK’s best Abba Tribute bands to the stage. There will be the annual beer festival on the same night.
Ladies Day will be on Wednesday 7th August this year. The winner of the Best Dressed Lady Competition will receive a week’s holiday for 2 in a Riu Resort in Jamaica.Second prize will be a weekend at the new Riu Hotel in Madrid.
Raceday Promotions and Admission
There has been no increase to the price of either the Premier or Grandstand & Paddock Enclosures but the price of the new large Picnic Enclosures has been increased by £1. Many racegoers have already taken advantage of the extended 50% off early bird discount which ran from 1st December until mid January. There is still 25% off until the 4th March.
Racegoers will also be able to win fantastic prizes again in the Wall of Fame promotion. Anyone who visited the track in 2018 could appear on the award winning mosaic artwork which graces the Grandstand & Paddock Bar.
The two promotions which were unveiled in 2018 – The ‘It’s Champion’ and ‘Ponte Faithful’ promotions will be back again in 2019. ‘It’s Champion’ will kick in when either the 2018 Pontefract champion trainer (Richard Fahey) or jockey (Danny Tudhope) win a race during 2019. For the 30 minutes following their win, a special offer will be unlocked giving discounts, freebies and special offers! The Ponte Faithful campaign rewards those who booked in advance for racing in 2018, and re-book again for a raceday in 2018.
John Quinn will host the Pontefract Annual Badge Holders visit in 2019. A group of 50 will be taken to the yard before returning for the meeting on 1st July, hopefully armed with a few winners! With the cost of a joint Annual Badge working out at just over £8 per person per day for the whole season, the excellent Loyalty Card scheme and the FREE Yorkshire Postcode Promotion all in operation this season, there are plenty of bargains to be had.
With a nationwide emphasis on waste disposal and recycling the Racecourse has teamed up with Wakefield MDC who have facilities to screen and sort all waste to ensure maximum recycling. Wakefield MDC guarantee that everything that can be recycled will be and the remainder will be used in other sustainable methods. 0% of our waste will therefore go to landfill.
To support this campaign, the Racecourse have also teamed up with artist James Owen Thomas who has produced four original sets of artwork using nothing but old marketing literature, badges and tickets which are being used on all our publicity material. The artwork will be on display through the season with details of the painstaking amount of work that James has carried out.
Food and Drinks
Racecourses across the country are frequently tackled about the cost of drinks charged by their catering companies. Pontefract are very aware of the rising cost of living and want to offer value to racegoers. In response to the rising costs of a pint, the Racecourse has once again decided to take the unusual step of subsidising the price of a pint of John Smiths and Fosters. This year they will cost £4.40. This will be the lowest price on any Yorkshire Racecourse and probably at any sports stadium in the district.
With just over 5 weeks to the start of the racing year at Pontefract these are exciting times for the Racecourse who look forward to welcoming punters, new and old, back for the 2019 season.
Full details of all the Pontefract race meetings to be held this year can be found at their website on www.pontefract-races.co.uk