Festival is a scorcher at Fontwell

Definite Dawn, red, wins at Fontwell. Picture: Chris Hatton
Definite Dawn, red, wins at Fontwell. Picture: Chris Hatton
Megan Nicholls (left of picture) was the Silk Series trophy winner last year / Picture by Dan Abraham-racingfotos.com

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It was the latest chapter in the meteoric rise of the award-winning Fontwell Park.

Hot on the heels of a new state-of-the-art £6.5m grandstand and the reward of a lucrative Boxing Day fixture, came the track’s first-ever festival.

The country’s leading trainers and jockeys converged on Britain’s best small course for two days of thrilling racing last week.

With the venue bathed in sunshine, Fontwell delivered 14 competitive races across Friday and Saturday.

And the racing world has been unanimous in its praise.

Leading the chorus of cheers was Tom Scudamore, one of the land’s top riders and a favourite face among Fontwell fans.

His National Spirit Hurdle triumph on Lough Derg back in 2008 will live long in the memory of regulars at the course.

And fresh from his latest success on Arab League, the 29-year-old hailed the most recent addition to the West Sussex venue’s fixture list.

‘This is a great advert for racing,’ said Scudamore, son of eight-time champion jockey Peter Scudamore.

‘I’ve had some memorable winners at Fontwell and I enjoy coming racing here.

‘You are always made to feel very welcome and the course is always in great condition.

‘My lad (Arab League) showed lots of heart and it’s brilliant to be back in the winners’ enclosure.’

Executive director Phil Bell and his team had their work cut out to deliver a safe and competitive surface for the festival.

While record-breaking temperatures encouraged many punters to come racing, they posed a headache to the groundstaff.

In order to serve up prime ground, they watered prior to the meeting and then again after day one.

And Scudamore insisted they deserve praise for their effort.

‘The groundstaff did a great job with the ground for the festival,’ said the jockey.

‘Despite the hot weather, they once again produced a perfect racing surface.

‘It is a great credit to them and they are a great credit to racing.’

Six-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls echoed Scudamore’s words.

Nicholls teamed up with Andy Stewart, a popular owner who counts Big Bucks among his charges, to launch the festival with a question-and-answer session at Fontwell House.

He then watched as his odds-on favourite Red Harbour won the Join 888sport Get £50 Free Bets Novices’ Chase on day one.

And while there was room for improvement in that performance – the gelding only snatched victory after Khorun had blundered the last – he could not fault Fontwell.

‘The weather was amazing and it was nice to be at Fontwell enjoying it,’ said Nicholls.

‘I spoke to Daryll (Jacob) after the win and we want to compliment the course.

‘The ground was absolutely fantastic.

‘A lot of effort went in to getting it right and the conditions were ideal.’

Double-winning jockey Rachael Green could not fault it either, despite the surface not quite being her first mount’s cup of tea.

A veteran of 117 point-to-point successes, she is now a crucial cog in Anthony Honeyball’s Dorset-based training operation.

And after partnering Fountains Flypast to victory in the Shoreham Port Corporate Raceday Handicap Hurdle, Green lauded Fontwell’s performance in tricky conditions.

‘It is surprising how tired the horses were getting on the ground,’ said the rider, who followed up with victory on Swincombe Stone in the final race of the meeting.

‘Fountains Flypast is a top-of-the-ground horse but there was plenty of juice in it.

‘The groundstaff have watered well and the ground was in perfect condition.’

Fontwell chief Bell has grand ambitions for the two-day meeting.

He is determined to make it synonymous with the start of the National Hunt season and attract big crowds to watch the highest calibre action.

And judging by the feedback on year one, he has made a great start.

Roll on 2012.