Why Hide hopes Boxing Day at Fontwell Park will be no sweat
Boxing Day racing at Fontwell Park has long been a popular, festive tradition in Sussex, making it one of the biggest days of the year for the racecourse.
This year looks set to be one of the best yet and it coincides with former jockey and trainer, now Fontwell’s clerk of the course, Philip Hide, looking back on his first year in the role.
But what has been his highlight of 2019? “It has to be Saturday of Oktoberfest – we had a great crowd and the atmosphere was terrific,” said Hide.
During the year, there have been plenty of improvements made on and off the track.
Hide said: “There have been remedial works we carried out on the top bend during the summer to level out some undulations.
“We’ve reclaimed a few yards of racing surface on the inside and have had it surveyed. We now have an additional four moves of fresh ground to use ( a move is about two yards).
“More recently, we have improved the horse-box parking, to provide more hard standing and a barrier rail to secure the area.
“The old Guinness Bar has had a facelift, and the Comedy of Errors Stand has undergone a complete refurb.”
One of the main issues at last year’s festive fixture, flagged up by Hide, was poor traffic management – something he has addressed this year.
“Nobody likes sitting in traffic, and it needs to be better this year – I have been assured it will be,” he said.
For those of us flocking to racecourses around the country on December 26, it is easy to forget those people without whose hard work and discipline, there would be no racing.
Looking back on his time as a jockey and trainer, Hide explained the kind of situation a racing person might find themselves in on Christmas Day.
“Christmas Day as a jockey was always governed by what weight you had to do Boxing Day. I remember one year, spending the afternoon at a friends – in his bath tub – sweating off 4lb, while everybody else was getting stuck in,” he said.
“As a trainer, Christmas was a busy time, as I felt it important for staff to be off where possible – but we’d give half Christmas off, and the other half New Year, which worked well.”
Following the Boxing Day meeting, racing is off the menu until the end of January – so Hide will take the opportunity to join his wife and two children on a skiing trip in the new year.
He urged people to visit Fontwell on Boxing Day - whether they were racing fans or not.
“ I think Fontwell is a great place to bring anyone for a day at the races, you can get immersed,” he said.
“To get out in the centre course and stand up close to the fences while a race is on is a special experience – there is also the new Figure of Eight Bar, if refreshments are required.”
The groundstaff are hoping for a dry week as the track has had to absorb 42mm of water in the past week or so, but the clerk is hopeful there will be plenty of runners entered.
He ended by praising his team for their all their hard work throughout the year.
Gates open at 10.15am on Boxing Day, with the first of seven races due off at 12.15. The racecourse grounds will be transformed into a winter wonderland, with a giant snow globe and Santa’s sleigh just a couple of the attractions.
There will be a range of funfair rides and face painting,with the King George VI Chase shown live from Kempton on the big screen for racing fans.
Get your tickets online at www.fontwellpark.co.uk