A day in the life of a busy racecourse

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

BANGOR-on-Dee Racecourse celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009 and tomorrow promises to be one of the most prestigious days in its long history.

Tomorrow’s meeting is the annual race day supported by Anne, Duchess of Westminster’s Charity and, on this occasion The Princess Royal will make the presentations for The Anne Duchess of Westminster Memorial Chase.

There is a real buzz of excitement at Bangor in the run-up to race day.

There are hundreds of people to cater for, including 200 guests who will attend a charity lunch hosted by the Princess.

Security has, of course, been stepped up and there are plenty of other things to do before any horse gets under starter’s orders  and as soon as one meeting is over, head groundsman Andrew Malam and his team will begin reinstating the track for the next meeting.

The marquees that will shelter VIPs from the unpredictable weather have been erected and catering staff have already begun to prepare Bangor’s two permanent restaurants.

Some things, though, cannot be done until the last minute.

The runners aren’t finalised until 24 hours beforehand so racecards are printed overnight and delivered from Weatherby’s, British Horseracing’s central administration, on the morning of the meeting.

But there is no sense of panic.

Bangor hosts about 18 meetings a year, including two point-to-points, so staff are used to getting things ready on time. “The first thing we do is to get the sponsors for the races,” explained general manager Jeannie Chantler.

“That information has to go to Weatherby’s and is passed on to the owners and trainers four weeks before the meeting so they can decide if they are going to enter any horses.

“The stable lads will look to see if there’s any prize for the best turned out horse and, if there is, will probably make that extra special effort.

“Entries come in five days before raceday which gives us an idea of the number of runners we are going to get but we only know for sure when they are declared.”

Bangor employs four full-time groundstaff and two in the office.

On a race day, however, between 150 and 200 extra workers will be drafted in.

“The two restaurants can seat 400 people,” Jeannie continued, “and with the additional marquees, we can cater for up to 1,000 people.

“For this Wednesday meeting, which is a lot quieter than a weekend meeting, we will cater for about 500.”

As well as liaising with the Tote to inform them how many racegoers are expected, Jeannie and her team will welcome a host of bookmakers.

The bookies own their pitches, some of which have been in the same family for generations.

On raceday, they pay five times the entrance fee for admission and are admitted through their own gate.

It is up to head groundsman Andrew to make sure the racing surface of the one and a half mile track is in good order.

“Horses running can cause quite a lot of damage so we walk the track, replace divots and give it a light roll,” he said. “We slit and vertidrain to relieve compression and get air into the ground and spread a soil, seed, sand mixture where it is needed.

“The grass is then mowed and fertilised on a regular basis. Should the track need watering, we have a licence to take up to 15 million gallons of water from the Dee.”

It may surprise readers to learn the horses never run on exactly the same course.

“All the white running rail is movable and that is moved after every meeting,”

Andrew revealed. “This is to try to get them racing on a different bit of ground.

“This is especially important during the winter months as the ground doesn’t recover as well as it does in summer. The steeplechase fences stay where they are but the hurdles move after every meeting.”

Andrew and his team also look after the stables – there is space for 85 horses at Bangor, each requiring its own stabling.

“The first job is to walk the course with the clerk of the course at about 6am to give the final going for the day,” Andrew added.

 “Then it’s all the last minute jobs. During the racing itself there are usually between 25 and 30 people manning the course and my assistant and I will be out there making sure everything is safe.”

With luck, the weather will be kind for the Princess’s visit, during which the course will also host a silent auction in aid of Racing Welfare.

Lots on offer include a morning on the gallops with trainer Tom Dascombe at footballer Michael Owen’s Manor House stables in Malpas and a signed photograph of Grand National winning jockey AP McCoy.

See full story in the Leader

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