Wrigley eases into his new role

Bill Bridge FOR one only a few days away from a major three-day race meeting at which, for the first time, he will be the man in charge, Nicholas Wrigley sounded in a relaxed mode.

Maybe his demeanour as he gazed over the City of London from the office he occupies as a managing director of NM Rothschild's merchant bank owed something to being used to working under pressure.

Perhaps, too, a lifetime in racing has taught humans can only do so much and the real business is down to the horses and the weather.

When York's Ebor Festival starts on Tuesday, Wrigley may have just a frisson of nerves but is relishing the experience of being chairman of York Race Committee at what is traditionally the major meeting of the year on Knavesmire.

It will not quite be that in 2005, the five days of Royal Ascot at York eclipsed even the Juddmonte International, the Aston Upthorpe Yorkshire Oaks, the VCbet Nunthorpe and the Totesport Ebor itself which are the highlights of the late summer meeting at York.

But for many Yorkshire purists, including, one suspects, Nicholas Wrigley, next week's fixture remains the highlight

of the year.

"I'm not apprehensive at all," said Wrigley, 50, who took over the chairmanship when Lord Halifax stepped down after the Royal meeting. Neither should he be for his father was steeped in racing and his father-in-law, Brook Holliday, was himself chairman of York Race


"We have a cracking good team at York, they do all the hard work. My role is to take an overview while they make things happen," he said.

"We had a blip of John Smith's Cup day last month when we lost all our electrical power supply for a short period but that apart everything has gone smoothly."

A three-metre wide strip of the course along the inside rail was dolled off for that two-day meeting to give the favoured racing ground the chance to recover fully from the pounding it took during the five days of Royal Ascot and Wrigley expects the

surface to be in excellent condition for the Ebor


He has been in close

contact with William Derby, York's chief executive and clerk of the course, over the past few days and plans to walk the racecourse himself on Monday.

"William is very pleased with the state of the ground," he said.

"It really has come good after all the work which was put into it after the Royal meeting."

Elements of the traffic plan devised by York City Council, North Yorkshire Police and the race-course executive to deal with traffic flow during the Royal meeting were in place for last month's two-day meeting but the intention next week is to use the scheme in its entirety with the A64

Tadcaster Road being the conduit for all cars using the course car parks.

"It will not be quite the same as in June because

people coming to the Royal meeting all had tickets and knew which car park they were in," said Wrigley.

"There is also the fact that people are used to travelling to the course by the route they have always used.

"We will also be using – as we did at the Royal meeting – the lawns down the course for seating and bar space.

"There is room there for people to spread out and enjoy themselves without having to queue for a drink."

Looking beyond next week, Wrigley has his vision for the future of racing at York.

"My chief goal is to make sure York retains its pre-eminent position in British

racing," he said.

"To do that we have to make sure that we have the best possible racing surface – which is not the easiest of tasks given our low-lying land – to attract the best horses.

"We are looking at drainage, resurfacing, everything which might improve the ground.

"We must also ensure we keep pace in terms of prize-money and be aware of the way the racing calendar changes with races coming and going in terms of being in vogue.

"I am also keen to improve the spectacle for our customers. York's unsaddling enclosure, for example, is not in the ideal spot.

"I am a great believer in the winner of a race being led in front of the stands and into a winner's enclosure where the crowd can see so they can respond."

It was the spectacle of

racing with first drew the young Wrigley to the sport.

"My father was away in the Far East when I was a boy so my school holidays were spent at Ganton with my grand-mother who was immersed in racing," he recalled. "We would go

racing right through March, starting with the Lincoln.

"I learned to drive going to the races with the 'L' plates on my car."

The family tradition goes on with 16-year-old Edward spending a fortnight recently riding work for Malton trainer Tim Fitzgerald.

"Edward wants to be an amateur jockey or a professional Huntsman," said father. "They do not look too far into the future at 16."

Fitzgerald will train the Wrigley's home-bred point-to-pointer when the animal goes jumping seriously and the family also have an interest in three horses trained by Marcus Tregoning at


That is for the longer term. For the moment, the

attention of the City banker who spends his weeks in London and his weekends at home in Ganton, is focussed totally on making a success of his first Ebor meeting in the chair.



Date of birth: March 22 1955

Home: Ganton, N Yorkshire

Education: Harrow School

Professional qualifications: Member of Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales

Family: Married to Venetia; two daughters, one son

Interests: All sport, the countryside and country pursuits; member of the Jockey Club and a director of Pontefract racecourse

Work: A managing director of N M Rothschild's merchant bank; partner in family farm in Yorkshire