AFTER a £350,000 refurbishment and the recruitment of 150 new staff, Uttoxeter Racecourse is busy preparing for the biggest race day of its year next month.
The 2013 Midlands Grand National is the pinnacle of the Wood Lane course’s annual calendar and sees the population of Uttoxeter more than double for the day with the influx of more than 18,000 people.
This year is extra special for the venue after its major refurbishment of the offices and bars and the installation of brand new on-site catering facilities that has created employment for 150 local people.
The new catering staff were at the course on Saturday for a training session as everyone at the course continues preparations for the big day.
Executive director at Uttoxeter Racecourse David MacDonald told the Advertiser it is ‘well prepared’ to welcome the crowds on Saturday, March 16.
He said: “The Midlands Grand National is one of the best days out in the Midlands and we play host to race goers from all the surrounding counties from Cheshire to Northamptonshire.
“We are working hard to introduce new audiences to the sport and are breaking down barriers across the event – from working more closely with the bookmakers to providing race cards and detailed information in all inclusive packages.
“We have amazing support from the local authorities, residents and businesses in Uttoxeter and we are well prepared to welcome our guests to our fine country course in Staffordshire style.”
On the racing front there has been exciting news in the build-up to the second longest steeplechase in the UK after the Grand National, which this year boasts an £80,000 prize pot for owners, trainers and jockeys to round off the end of Cheltenham Gold Cup week in style.
The news that Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude, owned by the Mike Tindall rugby-orientated partnership, will miss Cheltenham for the Midlands National, has seen a boost in ticket sales.
Meanwhile, clerk of the course Charlie Moore is working around the clock with his team of ground staff tending to the course to make sure it is in ship shape ahead of the event.
Whether its hand filling every divot, laying new grass seed or adjusting the route of the one mile and two-and-a-half furlong course for the best possible ground, Mr Moore and his team will be busy in the coming weeks.
They will also be keeping a close eye on the weather.
“Dry and sunny would be ideal,” he said, “We need to see some grass growing after this cold and wet spell.”
Of course, that’s just the grass. Next to consider are the jumps or fences – make the 4ft 6in fence of birch twigs too unforgiving and they may injure the horses or cause them to fall but if they divide too easily and become gappy, then it is no real challenge for the horse.
Then there’s constant communication with the racing fraternity about the course conditions, which horses will make the best 18 (with two reserves) for the race and the stabling and security of the horses when they arrive.
Of course, when ‘the going’ gets tough, the tough get going, so Mr Moore has the final say with his ‘going stick’.
In fact, he has two – a wooden one that relies on his 40 years’ experience in racing or the new metal probe that measure soil resistance.
Either way, his opinion will influence which horses will race, how the odds will be determined and even whether the race goes ahead in some very rare instances.
Mr Moore added: “If you’re a seasoned race goer like me or a complete novice you will have a superb day out.
“We would love to see Monbeg Dude compete for the Welsh and Midlands National double.”
Ticket prices for the Midlands Grand National on Saturday, March 16 range from £14 to £50 by booking online at www.uttoxeter-racecourse.co.uk, or by purchasing on the day at the entrance gates.
Gates open at the venue on the day at 10.30am with the first race at 2.05pm and the last race at 5.30pm.