Top award for Pontefract racecourse manager Norman

Norman Gundill has been awarded the George Ennor Trophy for outstanding achievement. Picture: Alan Wright.
Norman Gundill has been awarded the George Ennor Trophy for outstanding achievement. Picture: Alan Wright.

Pontefract racecourse manager Norman Gundill was awarded the George Ennor Trophy for outstanding achievement at the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association’s annual Derby awards in London.

Mr Gundill has lived and worked in Pontefract all his life and managed the town’s racecourse since 1975.

Pontefract racecourse has always had a rich association with the Gundill family. Norman Gundill’s father and grandfather were both directors of the company.

As a youngster, Norman was taken to the racecourse by his mother and as a teenager was given jobs to do on racedays in the school holidays.

Following in the family tradition, Norman did his articles with the family solictors practice - Carter, Bentley and Gundill - but, at the same time, was given more responsible jobs to do at the racecourse on racedays. He qualified as a solicitor and joined the family practice in 1966.

There was never any question of Norman not being included in the management team at the racecourse. As soon as he started work at the solicitors, he was given a management role at the first race meeting of the year on April 20, 1966.

He was formally appointed a director in 1972, secretary in 1974, managing director in 1975, and clerk of the course in 1983 - positions he still holds today. He also continued practicing as a solicitor until he retired from the family firm in 2009.

He was a founder member of Go Racing in Yorkshire and was on the Board of the Racecourse Association from 1977 to 2003, and on the British Horseracing Board from 1999 to 2003. He was awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2013/14 for “services to horseracing.”

Pontefract racecourse has seen many changes under Norman Gundill - from the installation of a watering system in 1975 to creating the ‘round course’ in 1983. Prior to that, the course was only three quarters of an oval.

The buildings have also been overhauled in his time with the Premier Stand extended to include a new dinrng room and the Park Suite, and the Dalby Stand built and extended. Since 1990 the race company have spent in excess of £5 million on these schemes alone.

The racing programme and prize money have been steadily improved and the course staged its first listed race (The Tote Silver Tankard Stakes) in 1992.

It now stages five listed races and prize money is now over £1 million per annum.

In 1966, average attendances were around 2,000 per day. Now the course averages between 4,500 and 5,000.

Pontefract was one of the first racecourses to stage racing on a Sunday and now stages three Sunday meetings which, along with two Friday evenings, are their most successful meetings and, with good weather, can attract in the region of 10,000 people.

Mr Gundill said he was “overwhelmed and overjoyed” to receive such an honour but pointed out that whatever he was perceived to have achieved he could not have done it on his own and he paid tribute to all those who had worked at Pontefract, the administration staff, groundstaff, and those who come each race day, for “putting up with (his) impossible demands and achieving the high standards (he) had set for them.”