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The Weekly Blog

Small Tracks, Big Personalities

One of the greatest strengths of horseracing in Britain is the diversity of the racecourses. There are left-handed ones and right-handed ones, flat ones and hilly ones; they can be urban or countryfied, grand, scruffy, modern, ancient, huge, small, spacious, fun, intimate, awe inspiring or combinations of all the above.

No two are alike (even the two neighbouring tracks at Newmarket have completely different atmospheres) and they all have their own personalities.

While the personality of each racecourse might be partially explained by their location, topography and architecture, a large amount of the differences can also be attributed to the  influence wielded by the people that run them. Which is why it was such a pleasure, this week, to spend two days in the company of Britain’s small independent racecourse managers.

An “independent” racecourse is one which is not owned or managed by either The Jockey Club or Arena Racing Company (ARC), who account for thirty tracks between them (thirty-one if you count both of the tracks at Newmarket), and a “small” independent racecourse is one that isn’t large – like Ascot, York, Goodwood, Newbury or Chester. They’re courses like Taunton, Stratford, Fakenham and Ripon. Pontefract, Catterick, Cartmel and Kelso. There are more than twenty in all, each and every one a sparkly little gem – and most of them managed by someone as quirky and charismatic as the course that they manage.

One of the things that many small independent racecourse managers have in common is that they are short-staffed and therefore, by necessity, a jack of all trades. At either of the large racecourse groups, or at any of the large racecourses, it’s likely that you’ll find people who are responsible for race planning or track management, marketing, health & safety, catering, plumbing, public relations, IT, or human resources; staff at small independent racecourses are usually obliged to do it all. If you want to know anything, about anything in the horseracing industry, ask the manager of a small independent racecourse – their 360o view of the sporting landscape means they’ll never be short of an opinion.

Hexham – a great place to
enjoy the Cheltenham Festival

So, when we met up for an afternoon at Catterick races on Wednesday, followed by a boozy dinner and an all-day agenda of topics to discuss on Thursday, it was bound to be a lively affair – fun and quite loud. In a sport which is built upon centuries of heritage and tradition, change is never easy to effect. But compared to the super-tankers of the larger courses, small independent racecourses can be more agile and quicker to implement new ideas. They also tend to offer a more personal service, where feedback and suggestions from customers can be more easily embraced.

Next week, when the major events of jump racing will be unfolding on the unparalleled stage that is Cheltenham (where our selection is Noble Yeats in the Stayers Hurdle on Thursday), don’t forget that there’s still plenty of fun to be had, for both left-handers and right-handers, at Plumpton, Stratford, Taunton, Hexham and Fakenham.