Focus on Fontwell: 2011 was terrific - but we want to soar higher in 2012

It’s been a tough year for everyone – but I’m pleased to say we’re seeing growth at Fontwell Park, both in racing and non-racing business, writes racecourse executive director Phil Bell.

This has been the first full year of the Premier Grandstand being open and it continues to pull in the crowds.

As we look back on 2011 the highlight has to be our Royal Wedding race night, when a horse of that name won the first race. That raised our profile no end and we’ve been building on it since.

We’ve had many other high points too – from the success of Ladies’ Night to winning or being shortlisted for a host of awards – and the year’s not over yet.

Last weekend we were delighted to draw a big crowd for our fireworks, and Sunday was another big day, our 999 Emergency race day featuring the totepool Southern National.

The next big one for us is our Boxing Day racing. It was frozen off last year but we’re hopeful for this year and are looking at our biggest-ever crowd – we could get 10,000 here that day. That is a challenge for us.

We have a lot of extra preparation to do but we’re relishing it.

We’ll have many extra facilities in the centre of the course such as dodgems, a beer tent, betting facilities, food outlets and a circus skills tent. Santa will be here and Derek Thompson from Channel 4 will be running Thommo TV.

It’s a day when we hope many new people will join our regulars and see what we have to offer, both on race days and non-race days. They might think it’s somewhere to return for a concert, a wedding, a party or even a business event. There will be a series of Boxing day weather updates from our clerk of the course, Ed Arkell, in the Chichester Observer series betwene now and Christmas, so keep a look out for those.

Looking ahead to next year, we have our provisional fixtures - we’ll certainly have 22 meetings and we’re hoping for 23.

Those will include three evening meetings, five Sunday cards and year two of our early-jump-season festival, when we aim to build on the success of the recent first one.

For the first year of the two-day festival, we were really pleased. We had good fields and good feedback from trainers, owners and jockeys. And the crowd of 3,500 on the Friday was the largest we’ve had for a weekday afternoon card.

Fullers London Pride, who sponsored the Friday, want to get more involved, and Southern Water will again run a charity day on the Saturday.

We’re reviewing our admission charges in the light of the current economic climate. We want to make it more viable for more people to come racing, and want to introduce better value-for-money offers. I’m also looking into putting on a meeting where admission is free – keep reading the column for more on that.

One highlight of next year will be racing on June 3 – the Sunday of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend. We’ll be celebrating all things British and saluting the Olympics by welcoming seven Sussex Olympians to present the prizes.

So, lots to look forward to for 2012 – in the meantime I hope to see many of you at the racecourse before 2011 is out.

Phil Bell