Fontwell Park boss reflects on a successful first major meeting

Third Intention and Joe Tizzard on their way to victory in the 2012 totepool National Spirit Hurdle  Picture by Clive Bennett
Third Intention and Joe Tizzard on their way to victory in the 2012 totepool National Spirit Hurdle Picture by Clive Bennett

I couldn’t have asked for more from my first major meeting at Fontwell Park, writes general manager Holly Glover.

We had a huge crowd, lovely weather, high-quality racing and wonderful entertainment for our All About the Horse race day featuring the totepool National Spirit Hurdle.

I’d half-joked the previous week about expecting T-shirt weather on the day but that’s pretty much what we had. And the beautiful weather was a factor in attracting a crowd of just under 4,000, which was 20 per cent up on last year.

That made for a really nice atmopshere around the course with lots of families here – and I think we had a lot of people who were making their first visit to Fontwell. We hope they enjoyed themselves and will return soon.

I said when I first arrived a couple of months ago I wanted to see bigger crowds more often, and hopefully Sunday has given us something to build on in that respect.

The feature race, the National Spirit, perhaps had a slightly disappointing line-up in that there was no Celestial Halo or Smad Place, but that made it a more open race and we still some top yards represented.

It was fine win for the Tizzards with Third Intention, who we’ll now watch with interest at the Cheltenham Festival.

We were also delighted to see Barbers Shop, owned by the Queen, win the totepool Supports the Racehorse Sanctuary Foxhunters’ Trial, watched by her racing manager Sir Michael Oswald.

The Queen had won that trophy before and it’s nice to know it’s now back with her. And Barbers Shop will be another that Fontwell race-goers will now follow with interest at Cheltenham.

There was also a nice touch when Nick Gifford’s horse Utopian won the last, ridden by Nick’s cousin David Dunsdon. It seems it was the last horse he bought with his father Josh, who we’d had a minute’s silence for at the start of the afternoon.

I’ve had a nice letter from an owner saying how much they thought of our tributes to Josh. We also had a pullout in the middle of the racecard – it was only right we paid fitting homage to a real racing legend.

I was delighted by the success of the entertainment we put in for the All About The Horse theme.

The team from the Warhorse theatre production were fabulous – a real crowd-puller. There was also a lot of interest in the retired racehorses we welcomed for the day and attractions like the pony rides and farrier demonstration.

Now there’s no time to rest as we prepare for our next meeting on Wednesday (March 7) – a Cheltenham preview afternoon.

Before racing, in the Premier bar, we will have a panel of experts looking ahead to the festival and giving some tips.

We have Steve Mellish from Racing UK, Sean Boyce from ATR, well-known pundit Mark Winstanley, and host Tony Calvin from Betfair.

That’s open to everyone who comes racing at no extra cost.

Looking a little further into the future, we’re now putting a lot of effort into promoting our first evening meeting of 2012, which falls on Friday, May 4.

It will include live music from The Reel Deal Band, whose members have recorded with, or are currently performing with, artists like Lionel Ritchie, Rod Stewart, Take That, Robbie Williams, Leona Lewis and Basement Jaxx.

The next big one after that is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee meeting on Sunday, June 3, when we hope thousands will join us to mark a very special milestone for a monarch who loves her racing.

On a personal note, I’ve been in the job two months now and my feet haven’t touched the ground. I’ve loved every minute so far - and the long hours and hard work are made worthwhile when you see as many people as we had on Sunday enjoying themselves.

* Holly Glover writes exclusively in the Observer every month. Get tips and reports for all Fontwell meetings on this website on the day of racing.