It’s been over 5 months since there was last racing at Pontefract but the 2018 season is almost upon us and the West Yorkshire track kick off their 16 day campaign on Easter Tuesday, 3rd April. The total prize money on offer of over £1.3 million is the highest ever provided at the West Yorkshire track and it promises to be another season of top class racing and fantastic entertainment.
Norman Gundill outlined exciting plans for the year ahead. He started by looking back to November 2017 when the Racecourse were shortlisted in four categories at the Annual RCA Showcase Awards and The Wall Of Fame (introduced for the first time in 2017), won the “Topspot” category. This is the third award that the Racecourse has won in the last four years.
The booking of Cheryl, Mike & Jay (formerly of Bucks Fizz) to play their greatest hits after racing on 80’s Night two years ago was so successful it led the track to make both of their Friday Evening Meetings Music Nights last year. That theme will continue this year when Belinda Carlisle plays after racing on 80’s Night on 25th May and The Bootleg Beatles perform on Red Shirt Night on 20th July.
The other evening meeting during the year, on Monday Eve 11th June, will once again be Rugby League evening and season ticket holders with Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity, Featherstone Rovers and Huddersfield Giants will again be able to gain entry for £5.
Ladies Day will be on Wednesday 8th August this year. The winner of the Best Dressed Lady Competition will receive a week’s holiday for 2 in a Riu Resort in the Dominican Republic. Second prize will be a weekend at the new Riu Hotel in Dublin.
In keeping with the strong family tradition at the track, there are 3 family Sundays each with their own individual family friendly theme and over £100,000 worth of prize money! Two of the Sunday racedays have been revamped in recent years with the much loved Flat Cap & Whippet Family Day on 24th June and the hugely successful ‘In The Zone’ Raceday on 19th August. The remaining Sunday (on 29th July) will, for the first time in 2018, feature a “fake festival” with three different tribute acts. The EBF Stallions Highfield Farm Flying Fillies Stakes on the 19th August will once again be the richest race during the season with prizemoney of £60,000.
While the meeting on Sunday 24th June clashes with an England qualifying match in the World Cup against Panama, racegoers will be able to watch the match on dedicated TV’s in a World Cup Marquee on the site adjoining the Parade Ring.
On the track
The quality of the racing promises to be as good as ever with record prize money and 5 Listed Races offering a combined total of £¼million in prize money.
Both Abingdon and Queen Kindly had huge reputations before winning the Pontefract Castle and EBF Highfield Farm Flying Fillies Stakes respectively in 2017. Abingdon had four more runs last season, once in Group 1 company, twice in Group 2 and once in Group 3. She started favourite on 3 of those 4 occasions finishing 2nd on one occasion and 3rd twice. She ended her season with a rating of 108.
Frankel’s daughter, Queen Kindly, had won the Group 2 Lowther Stakes as a two year old and big things were expected of her as a three year old. However, her win in the Flying Fillies was her only victory last season and she ended the season with a rating of 103. The Racecourse is increasing prizemoney for this race and will try to attract the very best sprinting fillies and mares with the hope of it achieving Group 3 status in the future.
Another Touch lifted the Sky Bet Pomfret Stakes when he just got the better of former winner Custom Cut while Lincoln Rocks, who had such a fantastic season with some brilliant runs in good races, won the Pipalong Stakes. Connect has not been seen since winning the EBF Silver Tankard Stakes but he beat a good field very easily and the yard are hopeful that he will continue to improve into a group performer in the coming season.
There were some other top performances on the track with subsequent Royal Ascot winner Snoano winning on the 11th April. Golden Apollo won big sprints at both York and Ascot following his win in the Mr Wolf Sprint. There was even a winner for The Queen when Swiftsure took the Bet totequadpot Handicap on the 25th June.
Perhaps the best race of last season came in the Spindrifter Stakes when Zaman beat Unfortunately and Izzy Bizu. The winner was subsequently placed in 2 Group 2 races while the runner up won the Group 2 Robert Papin at Maison Lafitte and the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville. Even the third home won a Listed Race.
The biggest headline of Pontefract’s year came when Dominating gave Mark Johnston his 4000th winner in the Phil Bull Trophy. In 2018 the Phil Bull will be run at the first race meeting of the year with the aim of attracting some horses having an early season prep run for the Chester Cup.
Promotions and Admission
Prices to each of the Premier and Grandstand & Paddock have been increased by £1 but the price of the Silver and Picnic Enclosures has been held. Many racegoers have already taken advantage of the extended 50% off early bird discount which ran from 1st December until the 29th January. There is still 25% off until the 19th March.
Racegoers will also be able to win fantastic prizes again in the Wall of Fame promotion. Anyone who visited the track in 2017 could appear on the new mosaic artwork which graces the Grandstand & Paddock Bar.
There are two brand new promotions for 2018 – The It’s Champion and Ponte Faithful promotions. ‘It’s Champion’ will kick in when either the 2017 Pontefract champion trainer (Richard Fahey) or jockey (Danny Tudhope) win a race during 2018. 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 2017, and re-book again for a raceday in 2018.
David O’Meara will host the Pontefract Annual Badge Holders visit in 2018. A group of 50 will be taken to the yard before returning for the meeting on the 2nd 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 Postcode Lottery promotion all in operation this season, there are plenty of bargains to be had.
Food and Drinks
Racecourses across the country are frequently tackled about the cost of drinks charged by their catering companies. We 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 have decided to take an unusual step and are subsidising the price of a pint of John Smiths and Fosters so this year they will be cheaper than 2017 and cost £4.20. This will be the lowest price on any Yorkshire Racecourse and probably at any sports stadium in the district.
Following the hugely successful refurbishment of the Parade Ring, both the Pre Parade Ring and the Horsewalk from the Parade Ring to the Course will receive a similar upgrade with the same combination of crowd fencing and running rail as deployed around the Parade Ring.
With a new Veterinary Treatment Box, a renovated Medical Room and extensive repairs to accommodation in the stable yard, the facilities for horses and racing staff have been hugely improved.
A new Wi-Fi system will also be in operation from the middle of the season with racegoers being able to connect to a hugely improved, faster system.
Those of you driving towards the motorway will also notice new signage advertising racedays and events.
Many will already know that former jockey, George Chaloner, has joined the administration team to work alongside Richard Hammill and Norman Gundill. His knowledge and existing links to owners, trainers and jockeys is likely to prove invaluable over the coming seasons.
With just over 4 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 2018 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.