Why it’s all change at Fontwell Park

A new year brings a new role for me in relation to Fontwell Park – and brings a new general manager for the racecourse, writes Phil Bell.

I’m becoming executive director (south-east) for Northern Racing which will mean me overseeing Fontwell and Brighton racecourses and taking on some sales and PR work for the whole group.

I’ll be representing Northern Racing at some of the biggest meetings at their racecourses, such as the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle and the Welsh National at Chepstow.

It’s all about talking to everyone from clients to racing owners and trainers about what the company can do for them and about trying to get new business for the racecourses.

Primarily I’ll be sharing my time between Fontwell and Brighton and will be on hand to help the teams at both, whether that’s entertaining people on racedays or helping them solve problems or come up with ideas.

There are big challenges ahead for both venues as they try to prosper in difficult economic times and my role should help them meet those challenges.

I’ll also be looking to engage with some well-known companies and trying to get them investing in the racecourses in different ways.

Fontwell has come a long way in my time there. The opening of the new Premier Grandstand in 2010 was a particular high spot.

But it can’t stand still. There’s hard work ahead to carry on making the grandstand and the racecourse as a whole a success.

Brighton faces different challenges. It now has competition as a venue from the football club’s new Amex Stadium and it also needs to attract new business in what has become a very competitive city.

At Fontwell, my new role means we have a new general manager at Fontwell – Holly Glover, who has been with Northern Racing for six years.

She’s 28 and has been manager of Bath racecourse for the past year. Before that she was senior commercial manager at Chepstow and Hereford courses.

She has started at Fontwell this week and her role will also mean she will take over this column from next month.

So these are exciting times for all of us, and we we go into 2012 on a high after our fantastic Boxing Day meeting.

As you may have read in the Observer last week, we attracted a crowd of 8,000 and I think the day was everything we hoped it would be – certainly it was one of the best since Northern Racing took over in 2002.

Now we must build on it. My dream is that in time it can become a permanent part of the local festive calendar, so that when people are looking forward to Christmas, going racing at Fontwell Park on Boxing Day will be part of many families’ traditions.

Our first race meeting of 2012 is next Thursday but our first feature meeting is our All About The Horse raceday on Sunday, February 26, when we’ll also be staging one of our big races, the National Spirit Hurdle.

The latest news is that last year’s winner, Celestial Halo, owned by Andy Stewart and trained by Paul Nicholls, is being aimed at a defence of his crown after a good win in a handicap at Newbury last weekend off top weight.

Another well-known horse due with us that day will be the recently-retired Lough Derg, a much-loved past winner of the National Spirit. He’ll be paraded as part of our celebration of the racehorse.

We’ll also have farrier demonstrations, the chance to learn to ride on an Equicizer and many other attractions about the creatures who make racing the spectacle it is.

After that will come our Cheltenham Festival previews, which proved extremely popular last year.

We’ll have a panel of experts here on the evening of Tuesday, March 6, then again to coincide with the next day’s afternoon race card, all giving their tips for the festival, which takes place the following week.

The big reduction in the cost of our annual membership is proving popular. We have dropped the price to £199, which we feel offers excellent value for money.

We’ve also reduced admission prices for 18 out of our 24 fixtures for the year: if you book in advance for these you can get a Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure ticket for £10. The same price last year was £13 for most.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this column for the short time I’ve done it, and may I end by wishing Holly Glover all the best in her new role.

- Phil Bell