HORSE RACING’S Ebor festival has long been the sport’s shop window in Yorkshire – and this year’s flagship fixture, which begins tomorrow on York’s Knavesmire, promises to be no different.
Yet, while the quality of York’s racing – and hospitality – matches the venue’s prestige, other racecourses are now following its example and overhauling their facilities for spectators as the sport looks to enhance its appeal still further.
A new Owners and Trainers stand is close to completion at Thirsk where racing first took place in 1855. Its feature will be The Chestnut Room – a tribute to the racecourse’s tree-lined ambience.
“The beautiful horse chestnut trees which line our pre-parade ring were all the inspiration we needed,” explained marketing manager Sheralyn Wade. “Inside we’ve got plenty of stylish, contemporary furniture accompanied by a bronze-lined centrepiece bar which will wow guests when they see it for the first time.”
And now Beverley, where racing can be traced back to 1767, has submitted plans to East Riding Council to build a £4.8m grandstand – the largest single investment in its history.
The new facility, if approved, would replace the existing 1960s main stand which has basic facilities and no disabled access beyond the ground floor.
Under the plans, the ground floor will feature a new entrance, a large open bar and new gaming area while the first floor will feature a high-quality bistro, for casual dining overlooking the course.
The top floor will provide an extension for the racecourse’s exclusive Premier Enclosure, with semi al fresco dining on a balcony offering unrivalled views of the scenic course which is located on the iconic Westwood.
On non-racedays, the grandstand will offer excellent facilities for meetings, conferences, exhibitions, dinners and other events.
Chief executive Sally Iggulden, who has done much to build up the stature of the racecourse, hopes the whole town – and wider racing industry – will benefit.
“These plans will provide the racecourse with the modern, fit-for-purpose facilities we need to meet the expectations of racegoers today and into the future, as well as having a competitive offer for other events,” she said.
“The new grandstand will be built on the same footprint as the existing stand and be the same height as the current structure, to ensure there is no additional impact on our beautiful setting.
“We’re very sensitive to our location. The existing stand is a bit of an eyesore – it’s a typically 1960s structure that doesn’t blend in particularly well with the surroundings. We’ve been very careful in the design of the new stand to ensure it will complement the Westwood.”
If planning permission is granted, demolition of the existing grandstand will begin in September 2019 and the new facility constructed on a phased basis to keep disruption to a minimum.
Supporters include Rick Bailey, chief executive of Daniel Thwaites which has just invested £6m in the refurbishment of the Beverley Arms hotel. He predicts significant tourism spin-offs. “There is significant investment in a number of areas in Beverley, which is making the future of the town really exciting – it attracted us to the area,” he added.
YORKSHIRE RACING IN NUMBERS
YORKSHIRE’S nine racecourses regularly attract one million spectators a year and the industry is worth £230m a year to the county’s economy according to the most recent research.
This follows a resurgence in the county’s historic horse racing centres of Middleham and Malton now home to many of the country’s most successful trainers – and horses.
Middleham-based Mark Johnston is now the country’s most prolific trainer after saddling his 4,193rd winner at the weekend while triple Group One heroine Laurens, trained at nearby Leyburn by Karl Burke, will carry local hopes when she lines up in Thursday’s Yorkshire Oaks at the Ebor festival.