Musselburgh embarks on a record-breaking winter jumping campaign this week, with more than £660,000 in prize money spread across 11 National Hunt fixtures.
Cheltenham Festival Trials Day in February is the winter highlight with the East Lothian track set to host two Listed races on a card with £152,000 up for grabs.
The National Hunt programme follows a summer season when crowds increased by 14 per cent, so racecourse boss Bill Farnsworth and his team can rightly be proud of the way in which the seaside venue has climbed the racing ladder in recent years.
“We’ve an extra jumps fixture and a couple of two-day meetings this winter, so it promises to be our best ever,” he said. “The Trials day, which is scheduled for Sunday, February 1 continues to grow.
“This year it is a two-day affair as we also race the following day and we hope that staging two consecutive days will help to attract runners from afar.
“The major stables in the south of England have certainly supported us in the past and the Irish seem to be coming here in increasing numbers too, so two days should give them more opportunities and incentives to make the long journey.
“John Smiths again sponsor the Scottish County Hurdle [Feb 2] and the Triumph Hurdle Trial – both of which have attained Listed status and that’s another first for Musselburgh.
“We are the only jumps racing scheduled in Great Britain on both those days, so it promises to be a great weekend.”
New Year’s Day is the mid-winter highlight and gets a boost with the Hogmaneigh Hurdle now worth £40,000 and with a £30,000 chase on the card as well, while the two-legged athletes will again contest the famous New Year Sprint over just 100 metres.
“The crowd was up by 25 per cent at that meeting last winter, so it looks as though that particular fixture is beginning to find it’s place in the holiday sporting line-up,” added Farnsworth. “The Channel 4 cameras will be here again to cover those two races as part of their New Year’s day programme. When you start something new it takes time to get established but both our Hogmaneigh meeting and the Trails day are really becoming established.”
A lack of acres and the make-up of the ground at the track mean officials have to manage the going very carefully, especially during the winter weather, but there will be fresh ground available for the big Trials Day and the two remaining February meetings.
“Prize money is very important, but we need to produce the best racing surface we can and we also need to look after our customers and provide them with the best possible facilities,” said Farnsworth.
In my opinion, the Musselburgh team are hitting the target on all those counts.