WETHERBY Racecourse chief executive Jonjo Sanderson says the track’s £3.2m redevelopment should not affect today’s season-opening National Hunt meeting.
The first of 17 scheduled fixtures over jumps, with a further three Flat meetings next year, Sanderson hopes spectator inconvenience will be kept to a minimum while a new state-of-the-art facility is built on the site of the Old Members Grandstand which was demolished this summer.
The West Yorkshire racecourse passed all last-minute checks yesterday after a temporary structure to house the photo-finish facility, commentary box and stewards was hoisted on to the top of the new stand’s steel superstructure.
Owners and trainers will have access to a temporary marquee this season, with Sanderson hopeful that the new building – due to be completed next Spring – will compliment the existing Millennium Grandstand and add to the racecourse’s status.
New facilities are set to include a spacious public bar on the ground floor with a betting shop and more refreshment outlets.
The first floor will provide an exclusive facility for owners and trainers with balcony viewing of both the parade ring and winning post, as well as extensive panoramic views of the whole racecourse.
The second floor will be a premium facility for Premier Enclosure racegoers, providing unrivalled viewing of the racecourse, and it is hoped will be one of the best public sporting facilities within the region.
“It’s busy. As they say, you don’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs,” Sanderson told The Yorkshire Post.
“The integrity facilities were made off site, bought in by lorry and installed three-and-a-half weeks ago. I’m pleased to say our project manager delivered this phase on time and I was relieved when everything was up and working yesterday.”
Hospitality boxes are sold out for today’s meeting – the annual fundraiser in aid of Spinal Research – and also the flagship Charlie Hall Chase day card on October 29.
Even at this early stage, this could be a vintage renewal of the first major steeplechase of the new season – 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree could make his comeback here after a 10-month lay-off, while the race is the intended target of Colin Tizzard’s 2015 hero Cue Card who subsequently won three Grade One contests.
Another possibility is 2014 winner Menorah from the in-form Philip Hobbs yard – owner Graham Whateley says the race is on the radar provided conditions are not too arduous by the end of the month – while course winner Blaklion, winner of the Towton Novices Chase, could make the cut after his RSA Chase heroics at Cheltenham last March.
“It’s brilliant to have owners wanting to run horses of this calibre at Wetherby,” said Sanderson who is equally satisfied with the state of the turf. “The ground has summered extremely well; the prolonged warm weather we have been experiencing, interspersed with some occasional rain, has left us with a wonderful cover of grass. I couldn’t be happier.”
Sanderson is particularly pleased that the West Yorkshire Hurdle, the chief supporting race to the Charlie Hall Chase and won in 2014 by subsequent World Hurdle hero Cole Harden, is attracting some eyecatching entries. He was speaking after Harry Fry confirmed that Unowhatimeanharry, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March, is likely to make his seasonal reappearance in the Wetherby race where potential opponents include Nigel Twiston-Davies’s Ballyoptic.
A winner of a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, Ballyoptic made a winning return at Chepstow last Saturday under Ryan Hatch.
As for today’s feature Bobby Renton Handicap Chase which celebrates the Ripon trainer who saddled the 1950 National hero Freebooter, champion jockey Richard Johnson and trainer Philip Johnson hope top weight Art Of Logistics can replicate their triumph 12 months ago with Village Vic.
Their rivals include Middleham trainer Micky Hammond’s Alderbrook Lad who is likely to relish conditions – this is the horse that provided jockey Finian O’Toole with his first career win last year. The conditional rider is one to watch to this season.
Meanwhile, Leyburn-based Karl Burke saddles Zainat in the opener. He said he couldn’t have been happier after stable star Quiet Reflection’s latest piece of work on the Middleham gallops yesterday ahead of the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot on Saturday.
The dual Group One winner was ridden by apprentice jockey Jordan Vaughan, the horse’s regular work rider. “I’m very happy, She looks in great form,” said the trainer.