Musselburgh enjoyed its best-ever winter season since jumps racing began on the East Lothian track some 20 years ago.
Thanks to kind weather and some excellent racing the total crowds for the 11 winter fixtures topped 20,000 and certainly put a smile on the face of racecourse boss Bill Farnsworth.
As did the news that the Musselburgh team have scooped yet more awards from the Quality Assured Scheme run in conjunction by the Racecourse Association and the National Tourist Boards of England and Scotland.
Musselburgh and Ayr both retained their five star ratings – the highest grading awarded by VisitScotland, while Musselburgh again featured in the top 10 per cent of all attractions in Scotland.
Musselburgh also collected three of the six RCA Excellence Accolades – a marque for offering a first class customer experience. Those awards went to Pinkios Bar as a fast food outlet; Rockavon in the bar category and Lovely Loos which is self explanatory.
“It certainly very satisfying to take another step forward and great that our team have won these awards,” said Bill Farnsworth, “but we still want to improve things and there a still some issues to address.”
The Hogmanay fixture on New Year’s day is the jewel in Musselburgh’s winter crown and so it proved again with a crowd of 6400 turning up. “We wanted to limit the attendance to 6000 so that there was room for everyone to have an enjoyable experience, but it has become a very popular day, so next year we will have much larger temporary facilities to help cope with such a large turnout,” stated Farnsworth.
With total prizemoney of just more than £650,000 for the winter programme, the track certainly put on some exciting racing and attracted some good class animals – especially during the Cheltenham Trials fixture which was staged over a two-day weekend for the first time.
The major Southern stables were again in evidence and half a dozen of those equine athletes out on the track actually moved on to run at the Cheltenham festival a few weeks later.
“Expanding it to two days and being able to have a two-day weekend slot was great and we shall be keeping that format from now on,” added Farnsworth. “But 13 of the 15 races went to Southern yards and we feel that perhaps we need to tweak the programme a little.
“The big Southern stables have the top horses and tend to mop up the conditions and weight for age races, so we shall endeavour to slot in a couple of extra handicaps to give those Northern based trainers who support us all year a real chance to win some good prizes. The fixture is definitely a work in progress.”
Farnsworth also appreciates that the open winter with kind weather also contributed to their success. “We actually lost one meeting early on, but were able to stage a replacement fixture only a few days afterwards and there’s little doubt that the weather helped tremendously.”
Now the seaside track needs plenty of sunshine for their flat season which starts with quite a bang on Easter Saturday with the inaugural running of the £100,000 Queen’s Cup.