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: 😀 😀
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: 😀 😀 😀