Bell vows to build on festival fever

Goodwood toast to the retirement of Buckley

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Phil Bell has refused to rest on his laurels.

The executive director of Fontwell Park presided over the course’s first-ever two-day festival last weekend.

It was hailed as an overwhelming success by leading lights of the racing world, who also lauded the efforts of the groundstaff to deliver good ground in sweltering heat.

But Bell is not going to sit back and soak up the plaudits.

Instead, he has vowed to kick on and make the festival bigger and better in the years to come.

The Fontwell chief said: ‘Our first two-day racing festival was a big success.

‘For year one, we’re delighted at what we achieved – and now aim to build on it.

‘Day one (last Friday) gave us our biggest weekday afternoon attendance since Northern Racing bought Fontwell Park in 2002, and over the two days we had close to 10,000 people in.

‘The feedback from everyone has been excellent.

‘It was pleasing to hear a number of jockeys and trainers praise the quality of the ground.

‘Clerk of the course, Ed Arkell, and his team have worked hard to keep the going good in a period where there’s not been much rain.

‘The first year of a festival was all about getting it into the consciousness of racegoers and the industry in general. When the time comes next year, the hope is everyone who came will remember it as a success, and others will come, too.

‘In five years, I’d like to see 15,000 coming here over the two days.

‘We want fans to come from all over the UK and fill up all the local hotels and B&Bs.’

There was £100,000 of prize money up for grabs across the two days, with seven races on each card.

And Bell was pleased with the quality of the racing.

‘We had a mixture of stand-out performances and close finishes, and there were good numbers in most of the 14 races,’ he said.

‘Rio Gael’s win in the Fuller’s London Pride Handicap Steeple Chase – the feature race on Friday – was excellent.

‘And it was great to see a couple of up-and-coming riders like Tom Cannon and Rachael Green each have a couple of wins.’

Meanwhile, six-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls weighed in with an added treat for punters as he took part in a Q&A session prior to racing.

‘We were lucky enough for Paul and owner Andy Stewart to do a Q&A session in Fontwell House – talking about their horses’ prospects for 2011-12,’ said Bell.

‘It was excellent to hear them talking about Big Buck’s, Denman, Kauto Star and others.

‘It came together late on this year but now we hope to make it an annual thing.

‘It could grow into a regular and very, very popular event.’

The next meeting at Fontwell is on Wednesday, October 19.