It’s been over 5 months since there was last racing at Pontefract and following a fantastic year in 2019, the West Yorkshire track is getting ready to kick off their 16 day campaign on Tuesday, 7th April.
The course held their annual Press Lunch on Wednesday 26th February where the Managing Director, Norman Gundill MBE, reviewed the 2019 season including an increased attendance of 6.1% on 2019, their new World Record with Guinness World Records, their superb Champion Racecourse Award at the national Racecourse Association Showcase Awards and set out plans for the season ahead, including some fantastic new developments in the Enclosures at the forward thinking West Yorkshire track.
The layout of the enclosures was completely reorganised in 2019 although this was not without its problems in the Picnic Enclosure. With no café/bar at the ground floor level, racegoers had a long journey up and down stairs to make use of all the facilities. The Racecourse implemented some temporary measures but needed a permanent solution. Work is now well underway with the conversion of the old Tote Building into a new café/bar incorporating a tote betting point and toilets. It is hoped that the new facility, costed at £205,000, will be serviceable by 7th April.
The Racecourse is also refurbishing all the Ladies toilets in the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and added some new toilets where possible in each area at a cost of around £60,000. They will also hire in the same portaloos that they hired in in July on each of the Friday evenings.
Wakefield MDC is also constructing a Health and Wellbeing Centre in the Park. This will include a 25m swimming pool, gym, tennis courts and a 3G football pitch and will provide a Café, toilets and formal parking. Work is progressing well and is on course to be completed in late Autumn of 2020.
Following the Government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake on FOBTs, the media rights income for Racecourse’s has taken a sharp drop. Pontefract reduced their prizemoney contribution by £120,000 ahead of the 2019 season. However, they will not be making any further cuts to their contribution to Prize Money for the 2020 season which will have an overall total of £1,170,000.
The Racecourse will continue to unlock ALL the race incentive and appearance money payments for horses in all Class 4 and 5 races and all races will be run above minimum value with the lowest value race at £6,000. The prizemoney on all three Sundays will remain at at least £100,000.
On the track
There continued to be some excellent racing during the 2019 season with the Listed races well up to standard.
The Weatherbys TBA Pipalong Stakes was the standout race thanks to the subsequent achievements of the placed horses, in particular former 1,000 Guineas winner Billesdon Brook, the first classic winner to grace Pontefract after having won a classic. While the winner, Exhort (rated 99), didn’t win again in 2019, Billesdon Brook added Group 3 and Group 1 successes and was rated 116.
Bayshore Freeway (Pontefract Castle Fillies Stakes) and Marie’s Diamond (Sky Bet Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival Pomfret Stakes) gave Mark Johnston a Listed race double at Pontefract during the season and he went on to be the Course’s Leading Trainer. He equalled the most number of winners in a season when his Bo Samraan won the KC Caviar Handicap on the 21st October and he subsequently beat the record shortly afterwards.
The most valuable race of the 2019 season, the EBF Stallion Highfield Farm Flying Fillies Stakes, went the way of David O’Meara’s Perfection and the race has a ‘solid’ look. The British Horseracing Authority have confirmed this race is one they would like to see become a Group 3.
King Carney ploughed through the mud to win the EBF Stallions.com Silver Tankard Stakes in October. Trainer, Charlie Fellowes reports the winner to have trained on well and hopes that he will make up to a solid Group performer over the course of the Summer.
One of the most successful trainers during the season was Ralph Beckett who maintained his incredible strike rate at the course of 38% in Class 1 to 4 races. He brought some extremely classy horses to the track in 2019 including Hereby, Tomfre and Max Vega (amongst others) who all look sure to make their mark in 2020.
The Racecourse introduced Music Nights at their two Friday Evening Meetings in 2015. Following Bucks Fizz, Bananarama, Belinda Carlisle, The Bootleg Beatles and Billy Ocean, international superstars Sister Sledge will be playing at Disco Night on Friday Eve 22nd May. On Friday Eve 17th July, the Racecourse’s new ‘Queen Night’ will welcome the incredible Magic Queen to the stage. There will be the annual beer festival on the same night.
Ladies Day will be on Wednesday 5th August this year. The winner of the Best Dressed Lady Competition will receive a week’s holiday for 2 in a Riu Resort in Mexico. Second prize will be a weekend at the RIU Gresham in Dublin.
There are 3 Family Days once again in 2020 with the highlight being Father’s Day on Sunday 21st June. The course set a new world record at the corresponding meeting in 2019 when racegoers donned their flat caps and formed the largest human image of a dog! The track are promising further exciting initiatives for this day!
Amongst the other dates to note in 2020, there’s a free day at Ponte for pensioners on Monday 20th April and there’ll be the chance to celebrate all things Yorkshire on Tuesday 7th July on their ‘Very Yorkshire Raceday’.
Raceday Promotions and Admission
There has been no increase to the price of either the Premier or Grandstand & Paddock Enclosures but the price of the Picnic Enclosures has been increased by £1 to £7. Many racegoers have already taken advantage of the extended 50% off early bird discount which ran from 1st December until mid January. There is still 25% off until the 2nd March.
The Wall of Fame promotion returns in 2020. Anyone who visited the track in 2019 could appear on the award winning mosaic artwork which graces the Grandstand & Paddock Bar. The Wall of Fame promotion has been extended in 2020 to incorporate the new Walk of Fame. Racegoers will be able to win fantastic prizes again if they feature in either of these initiatives.
The ‘It’s Champion’ and ‘Ponte Faithful’ promotions will be back again in 2020. ‘It’s Champion’ will kick in when either the 2019 Pontefract champion trainer (Mark Johnston) or jockey (Graham Lee) win a race during 2020. 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 2019, and re-book again for a raceday in 2020.
Pontefract Annual Badge Holders can visit the National Horseracing College in 2020. A group of 50 will be taken to the yard before returning for the meeting on 29th April. 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 Yorkshire Postcode Promotion all in operation this season, there are plenty of bargains to be had.
The National Racecourse Association Showcase Awards have been going for 10 years with Pontefract previously picking up 5 Awards in that time. Pontefract were stunned to be named the “2019 Showcase Champion” at the end of the evening. Previously the Showcase Champion has been the likes of York, Ascot, Aintree and Newbury.
Food and Drinks
Racecourses across the country are frequently tackled about the cost of drinks charged by their catering companies. Pontefract 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 has once again decided to take the unusual step of subsidising the price of a pint of John Smiths and Fosters. This year they will cost £4.40. This will be the lowest price on any Yorkshire Racecourse and probably at any sports stadium in the district.
With just over 5 weeks to the start of the racing season at Pontefract these are exciting times for the Racecourse who look forward to welcoming punters, new and old, back for the 2020 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.
A full list of Yorkshire’s race meetings can be found on our fixtures page.