Fontwell Park hosts its first two-day festival next week believing it can help take the popular reacourse to the next level.
Bosses hope the £100,000 festival will attract the country’s top trainers, owners and jockeys and say in time it could become firmly established as the new unofficial start of the jump racing season.
The festival begins on Friday (Sept 30) with a Best of British-themed race day and ends with the traditional Irish-based Saturday meeting.
As well as high-class jump races, there will be a wide variety of other entertainment – including live music on both days.
Champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls is due to appear on the Friday for a question-and-answer session on stable stars like Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s. That is scheduled for Fontwell House before the start of racing.
And he is just one of a host of top names from the sport likely to have runners over the two days.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy is set to have a number of rides, along with most of the riders vying for this year’s title.
Fontwell Park general Phil Bell is excited at the prospect of the festival, but believes it will take a few years to reach the level at which they are aiming.
“It’s the next stage in the development of Fontwell Park,” said Bell, who has run the figure-of-eight course since Northern Racing bought it in 2002.
“We opened the new Premier Grandstand just over a year ago. That has been very successful and now this festival is the next major step for us.
“Years ago, our fixture list used to have lots of Monday afternoon cards, which didn’t really work for us, and we have moulded the calendar to suit us and our race-goers. It now includes a lot of feature meetings – evenings, Sundays and Boxing Day and now this two-day festival.
“The three-day festival at Perth attracts 7,000-8,000 people a day and is huge for the local area. It boosts local accommodation providers, restaurants, pubs and shops and we want ours to do the same.”
If the weather is good, Fontwell hope to attract a crowd of up to 3,500 on Friday and close to 6,000 on Saturday, with many people attending both days and staying in the area on Friday night if they have come from farther afield.
Bell said: “Advance bookings for both days have been very good but we won’t achieve everything in the first year.
“Within three to five years we’d like the festival to offer £150,000 in prize money – although the £100,000 up for grabs this year is already double what we would normally put up for two days’ racing. That’s down to serious investment from Northern Racing and a big drive to get race sponsors on board.
“The start of each jump racing season needs a festival to get it going and we’d like to think that in time, trainers and race-goers will perhaps think of this as that event.
“In flat racing, festivals like Glorious Goodwood work well. People like to have more than just one day’s racing to go to at the same track. We’re not on Goodwood’s level but we’re hopeful this’ll work for us.”
For tickets, visit www.fontwellpark.co.uk or call 01243 543335.