Each racecourse has its own unique character. One of the great pleasures of racing in Britain is exploring them all.
The late Alan Lee, racing correspondent of The Times, visited the Scottish Borders as part of his nationwide tour and described Kelso as “Britain’s friendliest racecourse”, an epithet that has stuck. Not, I suspect, because the staff at Britain’s other racecourses aren’t very friendly (almost without exception they are an exceedingly amiable bunch), but because the customers that frequent Kelso tend to be incredibly welcoming too.
It is the atmosphere, generated collectively by race-day staff, racegoers and participants, that makes Kelso such a friendly place. And the Kelso crowd is a knowledgeable one too; they love their horses and their racehorses in particular – ensuring that every winner receives an appreciative welcome in the Winners’ Enclosure.
For many racegoers at Kelso, the racecourse is like an old pair of shoes – not overly formal, but a very comfortable fit. “Don’t change a thing!” people will frequently say.
So it is with some trepidation that we’ve redeveloped the Parade Ring ahead of the first race-meeting of the season next Wednesday. But don’t think of it as a change of shoes, think of it as a new pair of laces. The £350,000 development will spruce things up a bit; it’ll certainly make race-days safer, by tightening up the operation in areas where members of the public get closest to the horses. But the old shoes are basically intact; we’ve gone to significant lengths to ensure that the character and spirit of the racecourse remains the same.
Firstly, we’ve put the horses centre stage. By enlarging the Parade Ring and creating a tiered viewing terrace, everyone will be afforded a much improved view of the horses. Secondly, we’ve deliberately made the viewing areas as accessible as possible, so that all racegoers (able, disabled, young, old and everyone in-between) have an opportunity to find a suitable vantage point.
Finally, the new Parade Ring has been designed to include three uniquely sociable spaces. Level with the top step of the viewing terrace and easily accessible from the main concourse, three large circular platforms will each boast a log-burning brazier to keep visitors warm while they assess the runners and riders. The ‘huddles’ as they have become known, are large enough to accommodate several groups of racegoers who can chat, blether and exchange tips – this weekend we’re expecting Old Persian to win the St Leger at Doncaster.
The Parade Ring will be opened in a ceremony before racing on Wednesday by the equine celebrity One For Arthur, winner of the 2017 Grand National. Twice a winner at Kelso, One For Arthur is a popular draw each and every time he appears on the racecourse and we’re really grateful to his owners, the ‘Two Golf Widows’, and his trainer, Lucinda Russell, for consenting to bringing him to visit us once again.
Perhaps you’ll be one of the racegoers that comes to see him – in which case I hope you’ll enjoy a uniquely welcoming experience, a bit like slipping on a pair of comfortable old shoes, only with new laces, and with racehorses…