Interview | David Williamson

In Conversation With

Issue 36

How has the new all-weather racetrack been received in its first two years?

Despite the initial outcry at lifting the turf track to replace it with a synthetic surface, the feedback from racing professionals has been better than even we imagined, with many plaudits received for the safety and fairness of the surface for both horse and jockey. The number of horses now being run at the course from southern yards and top trainers has also added to the attraction, with some expensive equine purchases having their first visit and run on a race track at Newcastle. The initial unease of the population in the North East has also subsided following two years of highly competitive, top class racing action.

What have been your racing highlights over the past two years?

The highlight, without doubt, is the victory of Enable here in 2016 as a two year old and then going on the claim both the Oaks at Epsom in June and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly in October last year. We stated at the time of laying the all-weather track that we could potentially see a classic winner at the racecourse and Enable managed to prove us correct within a year. Enable isn’t an anomaly either. Rajasinghe, Forest Ranger and Stradivarius have all gone on to claim top class success after victory here, and this year we look forward to the unbeaten son of Frankel, Without Parole, setting the racing scene alight following impressive debut success here in December. What projects and upcoming events are you currently working on?

Following the recent completion of the racetrack and Border Minstrel development (Phase 1), we are currently working on Phase 2 of the development masterplan for the entire 812 acre estate, which includes a refurbishment of the existing facilities before moving on to Phase 3, which will be the demolition of the old Silver Ring Stand to be replaced by a 2,800 sqm Exhibition Hall. It is also our intention to upgrade the onsite racing professionals accommodation to a 35 bedroom Lodge, which will be available for bookings all year round as a bed and breakfast style accommodation.

How are Newcastle combating the racing industry wide struggles of attracting new racegoers?

Racing is still the second most attended sport in the United Kingdom but levels of expectation continue to rise, and like many racecourses countrywide, we will continue to invest in facilities to ensure that a day out at the races is high on peoples list as an option for the leisure pound spend. Our offering is enhanced year on year through unique events and entertainment, which are carefully planned and executed to attract many different audiences to Newcastle Racecourse. We also race on many Friday nights under floodlights throughout the year, which has proved popular with many attending.

What makes the Northumberland Plate and Ladies Day meetings so popular?

These are two dates that people diarise as soon as the fixtures are released, with the three day Northumberland Plate meeting always being the racing highlight of the summer season here at High Gosforth Park. The Collingwood Insurance Beeswing Ladies Day is the social event of the year with fashion very much to the forefront, and this year we have introduced the addition of a well-known DJ, Marvin Humes, to perform live after racing.

With Deacon Blue appearing on Plate Friday and Marvin Humes on Ladies Day, would you like to host more regular live music at High Gosforth Park?

We have two great venues in Newcastle at St James’ Park and the Metro Radio Arena, so opportunities are limited, however if the right band or entertainer is available then we will always consider an event to supplement the racing. Madness were very popular here in 2013, and with their 40 year anniversary next year, a racecourse tour of the UK is a possibility.

How is the non-racing business at Newcastle Racecourse developing?

We have a very popular conference & events business here at High Gosforth Park. We host many events, both indoor and outdoor, which is why we believe the refurbishment of current facilities and the creation of a purpose built exhibition hall will add to the flexibility and offering we have on the Estate. With free parking for over 10,000 vehicles and access to major road networks, we have an offering that not many other venues can match. The Border Minstrel is a hugely popular part of attending events at Newcastle Racecourse.

What changes has the venue undergone in recent times?

A refurbishment of the Border Minstrel in 2016 has been well received and it has become a popular destination for lunch and dinner, especially Sundays when we have a very popular Carvery operation. Live music after racing has also proved a success with many people staying after racing to enjoy the atmosphere and with further investment planned for the beer garden area we are looking forward to a busy summer.

What are your plans for Parklands Golf Club?

We have invested heavily into the golf course itself with hundreds of kilometres of drainage installed over the past 3 years. Investment into the greens has also been carried out and we are halfway through a five year development plan for the course. The mini-golf continues to be well used also and the facility is due an upgrade of the surface this summer, so we will continue to invest in the facilities for both the membership and the visiting public. We have also just brought on board a golf club partner in 188BET which has allowed us to refresh the current site and provide a greater offering to our members and visitors.

What does the medium and long term future hold for the High Gosforth Park estate?

In the next two to three years we will put forward the planning application for the Phase 3 development of the entire High Gosforth Park estate, transforming the business into an all year round sport, business and leisure destination that the city will be rightly proud of. Ongoing refurbishment will take place from 2018 for existing facilities. All of this in addition to the fantastic racing and events to come. It’s a very exciting time in High Gosforth Park.

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