Pontefract Racecourse ready to welcome horse racing back to Yorkshire today

PONTEFRACT Racecourse’s historic stand has undergone a makeshift makeover in order for racing to resume in the county today.

Pontefract managing director Norman Gundill in the racecourse restuarant which has been turned into a changing room for jockeys. Photo: Simon Hulme.

It has seen the restaurant in the main grandstand, built immediately after the First World War, turned into a temporary changing room with separate ‘cubicles’ for riders.

An elaborate one-way system has also been put in place so jockeys can get to and from the weighing room without coming into contact with each other.

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And the terrace will be a rest area for riders, trainers and others as part of the course’s adaptations to comply with Covid-19 guidelines on social distancing.

Pontefract managing director Norman Gundill with some of the racecourse's new signage. Photo: Simon Hulme.

It is less than three weeks since it was confirmed that the track would host the first racing in the county since Wetherby’s meeting on March 17.

Staff have since been working round the clock under the supervision of managing director Norman Gundill and chief operating officer Richard Hammill.

Understandably, Gundill and his team are apprehensive ahead of today’s test despite the support, amongst others, of the Professional Jockeys Association who have praised the course’s preparatory work.

“You don’t know what is going to happen,” the redoubtable 77-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of racing’s resumption.

Pontefract is gearing up for its first meeting of 2020.

“We’ll cross everything, pray and hope it goes well. In some ways it is daunting, but we’re proud to think they (British Horseracing Authority) think we can do it and we have had to jump through some hoops.”

It’s been even more challenging for Pontefract because it is the first ‘independent’ track to host a fixture since racing returned on Monday last week – every other racecourse has been part of a larger group with more staff and resources at their disposal.

But Gundill remains one of racing’s great enthusiasts – he first joined the management team at his local course in 1966 – and is proud at how his team have responded.

They include building contractor WF Wagner Builders whose proprietor, Richard Wagner, was successfully treated in Pinderfields Hospital for Covid-19.

And, with the adjacent park having to be closed on racedays, a deliberate decision was taken not to apply for Sunday or evening fixtures in order to minimise the disruption to local residents.

However the cost has been significant – Gundill estimates Pontefract will have spent up to £50,000 on covid-proofing the facilities and signage. Income from media rights, he says, is another uncertainty.

The track has already lost five fixtures. “Because of the era in which I was born (1942), and the era I which I grew up, we have always had a little money on the side for a rainy day – and, boy, have we had a rainy day,” he went on. “You have to be very careful and prudent. The future is quite uncertain. Will we get back to what we had before the pandemic? You just don’t know.”

Yet there’s one certainty – Gundill will be at the races today, sitting remotely in a private box, watching proceedings.

“I don’t think it is fair to leave Richard (Hammill) on his own. I’ll be sat there with the radio (walkie talkie), and mobile, and keep out of the way,” he added.

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