Transforming the raceday experience at Pontefract

The parade ring at Pontefract.
The parade ring at Pontefract.

With their success at the RCA Showcase & Awards it should come as no surprise to racegoers that racing at Pontefract really is a top day out.

From Pizza in the Paddock, an eye-catching addition to the Owners & Trainers experience and a Guinness World Record being set here, this is a racecourse striving for excellence in everything they do.

A refurbished bar area at Pontefract Racecourse.

A refurbished bar area at Pontefract Racecourse.

In recent years, the Pontefract Racecourse team have transformed their raceday experience for both racegoers and horses alike.

Managing director Norman Gundill MBE and chief operating officer Richard Hammill have looked at every aspect of the site to ensure that they are always improving their racecourse experience offering.

Having completed extensive renovation work to the pre-parade, parade ring and horsewalk the Pontefract team’s 2019 challenge was to go about transforming their enclosures and stands to improve the facilities available to all racegoers. This work started in the Owners & Trainers area.

“We knew that the Owners & Trainers facilities desperately needed to be upgraded,” explained Hammill.

“Having canvassed opinion from local owners and trainers and the ROA, everyone was unanimous in their agreement that the current O&T bar was in the correct location, but was just too small.

“We basically took a sledgehammer to the whole area and started again from scratch, taking in an old Tote position, a beer cellar and a number of storage units and redesigned the whole area to create a new facility which had, in effect, tripled in size.”

The improvements for owners and trainers did not stop there. The racecourse also forged a new partners-and trainers that the team at Pontefract were looking to improve with 2019 also seeing the grand opening of Pontefract’s Pizza in the Paddock bar.

“Following the Raceday Experience Forum’s Revive:Live Tour, I arrived back in Pontefract armed with new ideas to transform one of our most underused bars into something more akin to what the consumer might expect to find on the high street,” said Hammill.

“While we created a new terraced area outside the bar, the bar itself was simply refurbished to give a more contemporary look using industrial themes with brushed steel and neon featuring heavily in the design. We wanted to give the bar a clear concept and, in conjunction with our caterers, the Pizza in the Paddock bar was born serving premium lagers with a selection of bottled and cask craft ales and pizza.

“Since the bar opened on May 24 takings have increased by at least 50 per cent at every meeting compared with the corresponding day in 2018.”

In addition the racecourse team have also set about reorganising and streamlining some of the enclosures and offerings that racegoers can enjoy.

Hammill continued: “The first change was to add a new Premier Gold experience within the Premier Enclosure, an option which included their admission, a seat for the entire race meeting and their food.

“We therefore created a new entry level option at £55 which utilised unused hospitality boxes.

“While availability for this new option was limited, it gave us an added sales tool to upsell. We’ve seen a huge demand for Premier Gold options at every race meeting, so much so that historically quiet midweek meetings are now fully booked.”

It is not just the improved facilities and customer packages at Pontefract that they are proud of, but their people and heritage as well. From their Racing For Generations timeline displayed across the site to their Flat Cap & Whippet Family Day, the racecourse encompasses a little bit of Yorkshire spirit in everything they do.

To celebrate this Yorkshire spirit, the team at Pontefract wanted to rewrite the record books by setting a new, official Guinness World Record. The challenge was to create the largest human image of a dog – and what is more Yorkshire than a giant whippet made out of people wearing flat caps. The event saw racegoers of all ages get involved and a new record set at 691 people.

Hammill added: “There was such a fantastic atmosphere on the day and racegoers seemed really thrilled to have been able to be a part of it. Mums, dads and kids of all ages all took part with the youngest being just a few months old and the eldest in their 90s.

“Everyone who took their place will always be able to say they were part of history!”