Owners Facilities Reviewed: York, Wincanton, Goodwood, Sedgefield, Huntingdon

York (Baytown Kestrel, Flying Bear)

York gives the impression that it has thought hard about how to make owners and spectators happy. I usually travel to York races on the train but this year took the car to the busy August festival. The owners car park is organised for quick entry and get away. Kim Bailey writes about how he’d like to see this introduced for owners car parks at UK racecourses. I can see why as it works very well. The owners building at York is brilliantly positioned, with a balcony that on one side overlooks the paddock and on the other the finishing line. You couldn’t wish for better viewing. The dining room is excellent – food is close to Ascot standards, albeit you have to pay. Canny Yorkshire folk. But I don’t mind at all – it’s good value. The owners bar was very busy. By mid afternoon sitting/standing outside was a more comfortable option, but with it being York’s August festival it’s understandable. York possesses a charm few courses in the country can match and it is a pleasure to own/part-own a horse running at the course.

Rating:     😀                                 😀                           😀                    😀                 😀

Wincanton (Douchkirk, Heath Hunter)

Wincanton states in the letter you receive when your horse is entered for a race at the course that “our owners facilities are some of the best in Jumps racing”. Hmmmmmm – they need to get out more. With a few minor changes they could be, but they aren’t there yet. There are usually queues for owners badges on arrival, the owners facility is very crowded with nowhere to sit and there are long queues for food. The ‘hot local pie’ on offer was, sadly, passed over due to the queues in favour of wanting to see some racing.  Views of the finish are good from the owners bar, but then you have to face the scrum inside to get a drink or go to the paddock. It’s interesting that Wincanton has an arrangement that ROA membership gives you access to the owners facility. I’m not an ROA member. I know Rachel Hood, ROA Chief Executive would find this ‘extraordinary’, consider it because ‘I’m not sufficiently immersed in racing‘  or wish to ‘free ride‘ on the efforts the ROA makes on behalf of owners. She wrote as much in the July 2012 edition of Owner Breeder magazine. Maybe that article was a parody and I’m not in on the joke. What I do know is that if racecourses such as Wincanton, with capacity constrained owners facilities, have arrangements with the ROA so that its members can use those facilities even if they don’t have a horse running, and that usage detracting from the experience of owners with runners on the day, those racecourses and the ROA are doing a disservice to those owners that do have runners and, in the long run, to all owners. In Wincanton’s defence the Clerk of the Course has stated its badge arrangements with the ROA are being reviewed and they are also looking at how to alleviate the overcrowding and queues. A few minor changes here and there and Wincanton could be miles better.

Rating:             😀                    😀

Sedgefield (Innsbruck, Heath Hunter)

Sedgefield looks after owners. Decent food in the owners bar, plenty of places to sit and a jolly atmosphere. The course itself is the epitome of weekday National Hunt racing. Viewing is ok, but none of the stands have the height to make it exceptional for anyone. If you’re lucky enough to have a winner you are looked after very well with a photograph of your winning horse in a frame presented to you within short order of the race having finished. A nice touch.

Rating:         😀                           😀                    😀                 😀

Huntingdon (Dr. Darcey)           

You’d think on a rare sunny day in February that three people sitting on a deserted set of steps each drinking a cup of tea wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. When those steps are outside the owners enclosure opposite the winning post at Huntingdon racecourse it’s an occasion for the security guards to move in. Apparently the health and safety risks were too great for us to continue with our reckless tea drinking. No matter the tea was in a pathetic little paper cup with a sad teabag bobbing up and down within it – the spillage risk was too great for Mr & Mrs HiViz to bear. You’d think a featureless racecourse next to a motorway  that doesn’t have a fixture list to set the world alight might want to differentiate itself as a course based upon, say, friendliness, or facilities, or, I don’t know a decent hot meal, or tea served in china cups, or something, anything (!) that suggests a bit of effort. No chance. Huntingdon fails and fails badly. I can only imagine that Huntingon and Newbury raceourses are twinned. Huntingdon is a course to avoid as an owner.

Rating:  none

Goodwood (Silken Thoughts, Platinum Proof, Palazzo Bianco, Flying Bear)

Goodwood has plenty going for it as a racecourse. A wonderful setting and home to the fantastic Glorious Goodwood festival. The amount of racing gives many owners a shot at having a runner there.  Plus the course hasn’t messed things up as it has expanded – certainly not for owners. The views from owners seats at Goodwood is the best of any racecourse in the country. The owners pavilion is stylish with an excellent choice of food, and whilst it gets busy service is good. Food and drink isn’t cheap, but it hardly seems to matter. If you grab a table paddock side on a sunny day, where else would you rather be?

Rating:     😀                                 😀                           😀                    😀                 😀

Owners Facilities Reviewed : Ascot, Bath, Cheltenham, Newbury and Wolverhampton

Ascot (Flying Bear, Palazzo Bianco)

The best owners experience in the country. Whilst there are some aspects of the new stand that don’t quite work as well as they could – too much space between the paddock side and track side in the interior of the stand, sight lines in some places that aren’t perfect, the interior too hot in the Summer, too cold in the Winter, these are minor quibbles. Ascot probably receives some criticism because it is the flagship track in the country with the highest standards expected.  By contrast Cheltenham, given its facilities, gets away with little criticism. The Ascot owners facility overlooks the pre-parade ring, an inspired placement on the part of the architects team that were responsible for the re-design of Ascot.  The owners facility is in two parts – a bar and a dining room. The food in the dining room is a wedding style buffet. Top quality – and free to boot. The wine list has some gems, too. The bar next door is very comfortable and has large picture windows that open to allow you a view of the pre-parade ring.In the stands owners viewing isn’t quite opposite the finishing post but is close enough. Organising badges, and for Royal Ascot, paddock passes, all very easy. The staff were friendly, efficient and welcoming.  Going racing as an owner at Ascot is a pleasure. I’ve also had the good fortune to be part-owner of a horse that won at Ascot. There were plenty of families with young children in our party, and winning connections were made to feel entirely at home, even in spite of the impromptu creche that had been created. Hats off to Ascot.

Rating out of 5:       😀         😀           😀           😀             😀

Bath (Dr. Darcey, Orla’s Rainbow, Baytown Kestrel)

ARC, owners of Bath, have started to make more of an effort with owners, and things have improved noticeably in 2013 versus previous years. It’s still tough to get a seat in the owners area, but the food choice is much improved with a separate, albeit somewhat soulless, dining room at the back with a decent choice. The paddock area is close by, and whilst I don’t recall an area for owners viewing it’s never a problem to find  a spot in the stand with both a decent view of the course and close to the finishing line.

Rating out of 5:        😀         😀

Cheltenham (Alcalde)

I hope the redevelopment of Cheltenham results in an improvement in it’s owners facilities. Whilst the food on offer in the temporary marquee was decent enough, the large round tables mean you feel as if you are at a large wedding where you don’t know many guests. The owners bar is placed down near the 1f pole and is reminiscent of a 1950’s pub gone to seed. Owners viewing isn’t great either, further from the finish line than ideal – I’d choose to stand nearer the finish where the viewing is better.  For many people the pleasure of having a runner at Cheltenham outweighs the owners experience. I remember going to watch England play at Wembley in the 1970s. I didn’t notice the facilities were rubbish because of the wonder of  being at the match. I wouldn’t put Cheltenham in the rubbish category, but as the home of jumps racing its owners facilities should match those on offer at Ascot.

Rating out of 5:        😀         😀

Newbury (Alcalde, Silken Thoughts)

Oh dear. An excellent racecourse with clueless management and inefficient, officious staff. I’m of the view that the quality and behaviour of a management team in a business is reflected in the attitudes of its staff towards customers, and in the case of Newbury I hope the current search for a new Chief Executive results in an appointment from outside the current management team. Whoever is appointed can then, hopefully as a priority, sort out the treatment of owners and customers. There is also an atmosphere at Newbury that contrasts with that existing at the majority of other racecourses in the UK. It may have something to do with the cavernous Oktoberfest-style drinking halls, both permanent and temporary,  that exist. A re-design of these may improve matters here. My last visit as an owner to Newbury suffered from the following: queues for owners badges, no record of e-mail requests for badges at the owners desk, with questioning from the staff that suggested it was my fault they hadn’t read the e-mail, paddock stewards intent on preventing my teenage sons from entering the paddock with me, officious stewards at the owners facility, an uncomfortably crowded owners facility with no space to sit down, queues for drinks at the owners bar, and a long wait for food orders – we gave up and went to the on course fish and chip shop, where the food is decent and the service exemplary – in contrast to that experienced almost everywhere elsewhere on course. To put the tin hat on it our car was broken into in the owners car park. More security staff in the car park rather than acting as the fashion police might help here.  Newbury is a racecourse that benefits from an excellent fixture list and proximity to Lambourn. Good horses end up running at the course almost by default. The racecourse ought to be able to turn these benefits to its advantage. Yet it is a business which has lost money 4 years in the last 5 with no growth in turnover and attendance figures described as disappointing by the Chairman in reporting on its interim results last month.  Whilst these might be problems generic to racing, it is also a course that unlike others has had problems with mass brawls, fines for under-age drinking, the placement of concert stages for music nights so that viewing of the home straight is obscured, and horses being electrocuted in the paddock. The latest dress code furore can be added to the list of pratfalls that appear to be the speciality of  Newbury’s management team, which doesn’t appear to have made a connection between disappointing attendance figures, imposing a dress code and poor customer service. At the moment a course to avoid as an owner.

Rating out of 5: none

Wolverhampton (Magic Ice, Platinum Proof)

Wolverhampton offers decent facilities for owners. There is a good sized owners bar/room, decent hearty food on offer with viewing of the paddock from one end of the room and viewing of the track from the other. So why don’t I look forward to having runners at the track? It’s probably because the whole is so much less than the sum of the parts. There isn’t much of an atmosphere and the racing doesn’t inspire. But that is more my problem than that of the track – but in terms of being looked after, Wolverhampton does a decent job for owners.

Rating out of 5:    😀           😀             😀

Owners Facilities: What Makes For a Good One?

In the post this morning I’ve had a letter from ARC Racing in which various improvements for owners on racedays are highlighted. The letter set me thinking : What makes for a good owners facility? In broad terms two things matter most – excellent viewing and comfortable facilities. To expand on this there are four criteria against which I’d judge whether a racecourse has a good owners facility.


The owners facility should at the least have either have paddock views or be located in the stands with uninterrupted views opposite, or near to opposite,  the finish line.  If the owners facility is located away from the track there should be an owners area  located in the stands with uninterrupted views opposite, or near to opposite, the finish line.


The owners facility should be large enough to fit the majority of owners and their guests seated.

Food & Drink

Food and drink should be available to a reasonable standard. Haute cuisine doesn’t have to be on offer, decent home cooking or a buffet is fine. I don’t mind paying as an owner if there is a decent selection on offer at a good value price.  Tea and coffee not in paper cups with tea served from tea pots and coffee that isn’t instant.

Badge Requests

It’s understandable that meetings such as Glorious Goodwood or Royal Ascot have restrictions on number of badges, extra badges and paddock passes. Both of these courses a the big meetings deal with owners requests  efficiently and with the minimum of fuss. Not all meetings are in such demand for badges and in these occasions flexibility on the part of courses is a plus.

Course Reviews

I’m going to post reviews of the courses I’ve visited in forthcoming blog pieces. More to follow!