OFFICIALS at Catterick hope a £3.5m redevelopment plan will herald a new era of racing at the track which hosts the Watt Fences North Yorkshire Grand National today.
The first phase of work – a new main entrance and saddling boxes – has already been successfully completed at a course which is popular with racegoers because of their proximity to the action and its rural charm.
Catterick will then close at the end of the National Hunt season on March 6 so a new parade ring, winner’s enclosure and weighing room can be constructed.
Work is expected to be completed in time for the resumption of Flat racing on June 17 before officials turn their attention to the construction of a new facility for owners and trainers.
“We have to keep up with the times,” general manager Fiona Needham told The Yorkshire Post. “These are improvements that are necessary. We take on board that owners are very important to us. Without them, we wouldn’t get the runners to support the sport.”
Catterick managing director John Sanderson added: “When finally completed, these developments will provide an enhanced ‘raceday experience’ for owners, members of our race going public, trainers, jockeys and the other racing professionals who work at Catterick, without changing the character or atmosphere of this friendly dual-purpose racecourse.”
We have to keep up with the times. These are improvements that are necessary.Catterick’s Fiona Needham
Already the changes have been well received ahead of the track’s feature steeplechase win of the year in which High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith bids to win the marathon North Yorkshire Grand National for a fourth successive year.
She and her husband Harvey recorded their 1,000th career victory when Lackamon landed the 2016 renewal in their own colours. Straidnahanna was victorious in 2017 before I Just Know prevailed last year.
Today they rely upon Sharp Response whose win at Carlisle has been followed by solid placed efforts in Newcastle’s Rehearsal Chase and Haydock’s Tommy Whittle Chase.
However, while the drying ground means that just six runners go to post for this three-mile five-furlong race, they do include Western Jo for in-form Guiseley trainer Sam England.
Phil Kirby, whose stables are just a short canter from the track, enters Little Bruce, the horse which appeared to be on the brink of victory at Newcastle last month before stablemate Skipthescales, virtually tailed off under Adam Nicol, got up on the line.
Sue Smith’s defending champion Wakanda, meanwhile, heads 37 entries for Doncaster’s Sky Bet Trophy on January 26.
Wakanda, who won last year in a blanket finish under Henry Brooke, is the sole Yorkshire representative for Doncaster’s feature jumps race of the year.
The headline act appears to be Mister Whitaker who was victorious at last year’s Cheltenham Festival for trainer Mick Channon and jockey Brian Hughes.
Meanwhile, Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red is the county’s sole representative in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – the 43 entries for the blue riband race include last year’s hero Native River as well as former winners Coneygree (2015) and Sizing John (2017).
The 2018 runner-up Might Bite, disappointing this year for trainer Nicky Henderson, has been given an entry while Clan Des Obeaux, victorious in Kempton’s King George Chase on Boxing Day, also features in the premier race.