Minty and I stopped off at Fakenham racecourse on our way to the start to pick up fellow One Too Many Partners syndicate member Alex Acloque, as well as old friend and huge jump race enthusiast Charlie Arkwright, along with Simon Birdseye, returning for his second WTC outing.
We drove the short distance to Sennowe Park, where Hugh and Jenny Collingridge were waiting, with delicious fruit cake, port and damson gin at the ready!
A few minutes later the Newmarket minibus turned up and decanted some of Newmarket’s finest: William Haggas, Sir Michael Stoute, Roger Varian and the hottest trainer around currently Stuart Williams. Also onboard were Michael and Richard Hills, with other halves Chris and Jaci, as well as Diana Cooper and Penny Taylor, from various corners of Sheikh Mohammed’s empire, and Gay Jarvis.
We set off through the magnificent Sennowe Park, following Jenny Collingridge, who had kindly arranged with the owners that we could do so and, in so doing, save ourselves a mile or two. We were all struck by the magnificence of the house and the park surrounding it.
Over the course of the seven miles or so to the racecourse we encountered some interesting terrain, largely as a result of the footpaths in the area having been neglected and consequently they had gone to rack and ruin. After about two hours or so and the odd slip-up on the muddy paths we arrived at the racecourse.
We were greeted by Jim McGrath from At The Races who interviewed a few of us, before we set off on the course walk, for which we were joined by Lisa Kozak, travelling head lass for Oliver Sherwood Racing, who has been such an ally to us over the past year.
The course walk was notable for more trainers jumping antics! Having once again shown the clip of Ben Pauling’s remarkable effort last month at Market Rasen Racecourse, two of today’s company decided to take up the challenge to jump a hurdle.
One, Roger Varian, was spring heeled and cleared it with equal measures of ease and elegance. The other, who should remain nameless, was not quite as successful, and ended up in a heap on the deck! Bloody good effort though, Stuart!!
After the course walk my walking companions headed for the new and extremely comfortable owners and trainers bar, whilst Minty and I went off for a very nice lunch with the Chairman.
Having watched the first race from the middle of the course, during which I learned that Roger Varian had ridden seven winners under rules over jumps, which I never knew, it was off to the paddock to judge the best turned out in our race…..the extraordinarily named The Richard Farquhar (A Good Man) Walking Courses Selling Handicap Hurdlle! After the race I presented the prize to winning connections and did an interview.
Typical of Fakenham’s amazing kindness to us was an auction conducted on our behalf after the third race, with a trip to Sandringham Stud and a morning at Lucy Wadham’s yard on offer, followed by an afternoon’s racing. The two lots raised more than £1,000 which was fantastic. And we heard later in the afternoon that another racegoer had matched the bid for the stud visit, so even more money heading for WTC.
The crowd had been swelled and enhanced by a huge media presence, as a result of Victoria Pendeleton’s first ride under rules in a Hunter Chase. She was riding the horse she is due to partner at Cheltenham in the Foxhunters in a month’s time. Most unfortunately Victoria was unseated when, jumping the fence in front of the stands, the horse just in front of her jumped awkwardly and, with one of its hind legs, flicked Victoria’s foot out of the stirrup. Incredibly unlucky, but as she said later “That’s racing”.
We had been shaking buckets to great effect all afternoon and continued as racegoers left the course.
One of the most striking things of the past year has been the warmth, kindness and willingness to help that racecourses have shown us. I can honestly say that Fakenham has no peer in that regard. The racecourse team, led by David Hunter, could not have been more helpful and more willing to ensure we had a good day. Fakenham is a wonderful racecourse that is very well supported by the local Norfolk population, very well run, puts up excellent prize money to attract the big trainers and good horses and clearly cares passionately about the experience that racegoers have. Consequently it has the happiest atmosphere of any racecourse I have ever visited. If you have never been, you should. You will enjoy your visit.
Accordingly, we must pass on our thanks, most notably to David Hunter, whose drive and humour are completely infectious, to the Chairman Nigel and his wife for a splendid lunch, to Sam Bullard for his help in the auction and for ensuring that Minty and I met everyone we needed to!
Thanks also are due to all the Newmarket team, who gave up a day to come in a minibus to deepest Norfolk to support me. Before today I had never met William Haggas, Roger Varian, Sir Michael Stoute or Stuart Williams, nor many of the supporting cast. To them and to Diana Cooper, Michael and Richard Hills and their better halves and to Penny Taylor and Gay Jarvis I say a huge thank you! Your demonstration of support was greatly appreciated! Finally our thanks to Rosie Edgington who had us to stay and looked after us so well and to Hugh and Jenny Collingridge for feeding and watering us so splendidly.