A GENTEEL afternoon’s racing at Beverley or Ripon could not be further removed from the glitz and glamour of Royal Ascot; merriment of Aintree on Grand National day – or the intensity of the annual Irish invasion at the Cheltenham Festival.
Yet the picturesque tracks in these two market towns now find them ranked alongside these high-profile venues, and also York, after tourism chiefs from VisitEngland and VisitScotland assessed the customer experience at the each of the country’s 60 racecourses.
And while York would expect to receive this accolade each year – one of the world’s best horses in Roaring Lion excelled on the Knavesmire last summer under Oisin Murphy – the inclusion of Beverley and Ripon is testament to the cumulative endeavours of staff over many years to provide a day to remember for spectators on and off the track.
Even though each of the country’s 60 courses was praised by independent inspectors who turned up unannounced, only 11 tracks in England reached the 88 per cent benchmark that was required to be named amongst the very best.
“To be ranked alongside courses such as Ascot, Aintree and Cheltenham is a huge honour for us and a tribute to our staff and partners who contribute to making a day at Beverley races a fantastic experience,” said a thrilled Sally Iggulden, chief executive of the East Yorkshire racecourse.
“We’re always striving to improve every aspect of our racedays and to raise the bar with new initiatives and innovations, so it’s great that these efforts have been recognised once again.
“We’ve got a great season ahead, with our opening meeting on April 17, and we’re looking forward to making a visit to Beverley Racecourse an even more enjoyable experience in 2019.”
As well as camel racing, and other events with broad family appeal, Beverley held a pioneering raceday last summer which featured sign language on a big screen, and extra training for staff, to help spectators with hearing impairments.
The Westwood course also joined forces with Contact the Elderly, a charity dedicated to combating loneliness among older people, to stage a raceday tea party when 80 local elderly people and volunteers enjoyed an afternoon of tea, cake and conversation to a backdrop of top-quality racing.
And while Beverley continues to advance a £4.8m redevelopment plan to modernise spectator facilities, the emphasis at Ripon is very much on customer service, according to managing director James Hutchinson.
With one million people attending race meetings in the county each year, and supporting the area’s tourism and hospitality industry, Mr Hutchinson says the demand for excellence has led to healthy competition between Yorkshire’s nine tracks for industry-leading awards like this.
“It’s great news. It’s independently assessed and we never know when the inspectors are coming,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “From customer service to the quality of food and toilets, it is very thorough and an extremely useful benchmark.
“From our point of view, we can’t compete with York when it comes to the quality of racing. But we can compete on the level of service – and the things that do make a difference to a day at the races. Though the Yorkshire courses do gently compete with each other, we do work well together.”
He added: “We aim to do even better in 2019. A big well done to all the staff involved.”
And today’s winners are...
ALL venues are judged by the Quality Assured Racecourse Scheme which sees tourism leaders carry out annual inspections.
VisitEngland said the highest benchmark had been achieved this year by Aintree, Ascot, Beverley, Cheltenham, Chester, Newbury, Newmarket, Ripon, Uttoxeter, Wincanton and York.
To qualify, courses have to achieve a pass-rate of 88 per cent just as the Scottish tracks of Ayr, Hamilton and Musselburgh did too.
VisitEngland director Andrew Stokes said: “Our research shows that people want to visit our globally renowned racecourses with their historical pedigree and atmospheric raceday experience.”