Horse Racing: Sanderson is dreaming of a mild Christmas at Wetherby

Jonjo Sanderson.
Jonjo Sanderson.
Have your say

THERE are four people in Jonjo Sanderson’s household who would love nothing more than the perfect white Christmas amid freezing snow squalls outside their Tockwith home.

Wife Donna and young children Orla, Tom and Teddy yearn to wake up to a Christmas Day winter wonderland.

But not chief executive of Wetherby Racecourse, Sanderson, for whom a mild forecast is just the ticket ahead of next weekend’s two-day extravaganza.

Sanderson, 37, has been chief executive at the A1 course since September 2008 and been frustrated by two costly wipe-outs of the track’s two-day Christmas special - the William Hill Yorkshire Winter Festival. Forming day one of the four-day Go Racing in Yorkshire Winter Festival which also features racing from Doncaster and Catterick, Boxing Day’s Wetherby feast is highlighted by the William Hill Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase with the following day featuring the William Hill Castleford Handicap Chase.

Both fixtures were abandoned in both 2009 and 2010 by, first, five inches of snow and then temperatures that plummeted to as low as minus 15 degrees. But it has been all systems go since and a forecast for Christmas week that begins with today’s temperatures forecast to reach a balmy 12 degrees is Sanderson’s ideal, even if his young family might think otherwise.

Sanderson, who was formerly general manager at Catterick for six years, has racing on his mind and admits losing even one of the two-day meeting’s two-day fixtures is “a practical and administrative nightmare”.

He even makes the short drive to the racecourse on Christmas morning itself to check everything is running smoothly ahead of the fixture before returning home for Christmas lunch.

In a perfect Christmas scene, the snow would be falling outside his window, but blue sky and sunshine is just fine for Sanderson ahead of a richly important two-day meeting that forms Wetherby’s busiest time of the year.

Sanderson told the YEP: “At Christmas the family are a bit disappointed because clearly the two days that we have are very important and they take up a lot of my time.

“I’m not necessarily around at Christmas perhaps as another person may be with their family, but they understand. They pray for a white Christmas and I don’t.

“There is a little bit of conflict at home because they want snow and I say ‘sssssh’.

“For them, I would love a lovely nice white Christmas but from a professional point of view it’s all about Boxing Day, really.

“They are two very important days – not only from a financial point of view but also from marketing Wetherby to Yorkshire and the local community.

“Thankfully, my wife is very understanding as I go down to the course on Christmas Day but she knows it’s what I do, it’s what I’ve grown up doing and horse racing is in my blood.”

Boxing Day’s highlight is the Grade Three William Hill Rowland Meyrick and Broadway Buffalo – Saturday’s easy winner of Haydock’s Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase – is entered for the powerful David Pipe yard in Devon.

Sanderson said: “It’s nice when those sorts of trainers come up and it’s a bit of a pat on the back for you.” But on the flip side, their horses are obviously very good and they tend to take the prize money away from the north!

“Luckily, in the last three years Malcolm Jefferson has won it twice and Sue Smith won it last year which is great news.”

Smith and Jefferson again have entries this year with Vintage Star entered for Smith and Jefferson again relying on 2012 Meyrick winner Cape Tribulation.

A cracking day’s racing looks in store to kick-off the William Hill Yorkshire Winter Festival, and there’s even treats on offer away from the race track.

With gates opening at 10am, early birds will receive free mulled wine and mince pies on Friday and Sanderson laughed: “If you haven’t had enough mince pies by Boxing Day then come and have some on us!”