New boss: I’m loving life at special Fontwell

My first month at Fontwell Park has been hectic – but hugely enjoyable, writes general manager Holly Glover.

The longer I’m here, the more I’m realising how close the racecourse is to people’s hearts and the great affection with which it’s held both locally and in the industry as a whole.

I had a fantastic start to my time here when we were named best jump racecourse in the UK in the Neil Wyatt Racecourse Groundstaff Awards.

It’s a tremendous honour and so well deserved by our small team of groundstaff. There can’t be many teams of their size who achieve so much.

They were up against racecourses with bigger budgets and with more land.

Many people don’t realise our guys don’t have a very wide course and therefore constantly have to keep the same stretch of turf well-maintained.

I’ve already had two race days since starting as general manager and it’s been nice to start with a couple of weekday meetings rather than diving straight into larger weekend or feature meetings.

Having said that, neither of our January meetings was particularly quiet. We had fantastic crowds in for both. The second, last Friday, was a reciprocal fixture for Goodwood members, which put about 300 on to the attendance.

Those two meetings gave me a chance to get round and speak to many of the people who make the racecourse tick on a race day and that’s been a real pleasure.

Now things step up a gear.

We raced on Sunday and on February 26 it’s All About The Horse race day featuring the National Spirit Hurdle.

We’ll have some wonderful retired racehorses parading and a performance of the National Theatre’s Warhorse, so soon after the film has proved such a big box-office hit.

There’ll be a chance to meet racehorses, see an artist paint one, have a go on an equiciser – a racehorse simulator – and see a farrier at work.

On top of all that, we have the National Spirit Hurdle itself, and it looks like Paul Nicholls will bring Celestial Halo, a superb horse, back to defend the title he won last year.

As a racecourse, we are also planning longer-term and there are a number of meetings taking place beyond February that we’re putting a lot of thought and effort to at the moment.

We have our Cheltenham preview race day on March 7 which will start with a Betfair-sponsored panel of experts looking ahead to the following week’s festival.

Then there’s our first evening meeting of the year on Friday, May 4, when we’ll have music from soul and funk outfit The Reel Deal Band, whose members have recorded with or are currently performing with artists such as Lionel Ritchie, Rod Stewart, Take That, Robbie Williams, Leona Lewis and Basement Jaxx.

And we’re looking ahead with great excitement to our Diamond Jubilee race day on Sunday, June 3, when apart from all the royal connections we’ll be celebrating sport in Sussex as we get ready for the Olympics.

Our non-race day activities are picking up nicely for the year ahead. We’re getting a good level of inquiries for conferences and banqueting, as well as weddings, which is always a strong part of the business.

I can’t let my first column pass without a mention for my Focus on Fontwell predecessor Phil Bell, now executive director south-east for Northern Racing, who is wonderful to work with.

He’s so knowledgeable about racing and the area, there’s no query or quandary I come up against that he can’t solve. And everyone loves him!

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