New year; new era at racecourse

It was a nail-biting start to Fakenham Racecourse's inaugural New Year's Day race meeting.Days of frost beforehand had threatened to put a stop to the event right up to the morning of the event.

It was a nail-biting start to Fakenham Racecourse's inaugural New Year's Day race meeting.

Days of frost beforehand had threatened to put a stop to the event right up to the morning of the event.

But as the final horse crossed the finish line yesterday it looked like a new winter bank holiday tradition could have begun for thousands of Norfolk horse lovers.

The stands were packed and the paddocks and course thronged with people as the first two mile, four furlong hurdle race began at 12.35pm.


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And though talk of a royal visit proved unfounded there was still a royal presence on the track.

One of the Queen's horses, Midsummer Magic, put in a sterling performance against strong competition in the second two miler, just clinching victory in a close finish.

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For David Hunter, clerk and chief executive of the racecourse, seeing the horses gallop and the crowds gasp and cheer was both a pleasure and a relief.

After days of frosty mornings it had been touch and go whether the event would have to be cancelled due to patches of frost still on the course.

As late as New Year's Eve, Mr Hunter was only able to give the track a 50/50 chance of being okay for race day.

But warmer conditions overnight, helped on largely by considerable cloud cover over the east of England, allowed the ground to thaw enough to let the thoroughbreds loose.

'We are all very pleased,' he said. 'We put a lot of work into planning a racing meet and to have not got past the final hurdle would have been very sad. It was touch and go but the frost held off.'

The New Year's Day race fixture at Fakenham is on a three-year trial before the racing authorities decide whether to make it a permanent date in the racing calendar.

Mr Hunter continued: 'I think that people will enjoy themselves and use this as a way of getting out in the fresh air on the bank holiday.

'There will be things from today that we learn for next year and I would like to think it will become a permanent fixture.

'We have got this fixture for the next three years and it is now up to us to show that the demand is there.

'At our Easter Monday meet we can get up to 13,000 people but I did not expect anywhere near that many today.'

With estimates of between 4,000 and 6,000 racegoers attending yesterday's event it seems the first New Year's meet proved a hit with both hardened race fans and those less familiar with the sport.

Christine Dunnett, a racehorse trainer based at Hingham, said: 'It looks like it has been a great success.

'It is always a great atmosphere at Fakenham and it is a good place to be on New Year's Day.'

Dave Castle, from Dereham, brought his two young children to the races for the first time.

'It might be a bit chilly but so long as you wrap up warm it is a really exciting place to spend the bank holiday. The children seem to love it and my daughter loves looking at the horses in the winner's paddock.'

The day was brought to a close with the aptly named Happy New Year Handicap Hurdle at 3.25pm.

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