Bell’s ready to take Fontwell to next level

Fontwell's executive director Phil Bell

Fontwell's executive director Phil Bell

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Phil Bell warmed up for Fontwell’s first two-day festival and insisted: This will take us to the next level.

The executive director hopes the £100,000 meeting will attract the country’s leading owners, trainers and jockeys.

And he believes it could become the new unofficial start to the jump racing season in years to come.

The festival begins on Friday (September 30) with a Best of British-themed raceday and ends with the traditional Irish-based Saturday card.

Champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls, who has taken the title an impressive six times, is due to appear in a question and answer session on day one.

He will be at Fontwell House answering questions on stable stars such as Kauto Star, Denman and Big Buck’s – as well as his young pretenders – before the start of racing.

Nicholls is just one of a host of top names from the sport likely to have runners over the two days.

Tony McCoy is expected to have a number of engagements, along with the riders attempting to dethrone the 16-time champion jockey.

Bell is excited at the prospect of the festival but believes it will be a few years before it has a foothold in the racing calendar.

‘It’s the next stage in the development of Fontwell Park,’ said the former Brighton Racecourse chief, who has run the figure-of-eight track since Northern Racing bought it in 2002.

‘We opened the new Premier Grandstand just over a year ago.

‘That has been very successful and now this festival is the next major step for us.

‘Years ago, our fixture list used to have lots of Monday afternoon cards, which didn’t really work for us.

‘We have now moulded the calendar to suit us and our race-goers.

‘It now includes a lot of feature meetings – evenings, Sundays and Boxing Day and now this two-day festival.

‘The three-day festival at Perth attracts 7,000-8,000 people a day and is huge for the local area.

‘It boosts local accommodation providers, restaurants, pubs and shops and we want ours to do the same.’

Provided they are blessed with good weather, Fontwell hope to attract a crowd of up to 3,500 on Friday and close to 6,000 on Saturday.

Bell added: ‘Advance bookings for both days have been very good but we won’t achieve everything in the first year.

‘Within three to five years we’d like the festival to offer £150,000 in prize money – although the £100,000 up for grabs this year is already double what we would normally put up for two days’ racing.

‘That’s down to serious investment from Northern Racing and a big drive to get race sponsors on board.

‘The start of each jump racing season needs a festival to get it going and we’d like to think that, in time, trainers and race-goers will perhaps think of this as that event.

‘In flat racing, festivals like Glorious Goodwood work well.

‘People like to have more than just one day’s racing to go to at the same track.

‘We’re not on Goodwood’s level but we’re hopeful this’ll work for us.’

For tickets, visit fontwellpark.co.uk or call 01243 543335.

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