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Excitement building ahead of new season at Warwick Racecourse

Groundstaff team Paul Delaney, Luke Randall and Simon Butler prepare fences for the season opener at Warwick Racecourse.
Groundstaff team Paul Delaney, Luke Randall and Simon Butler prepare fences for the season opener at Warwick Racecourse.

WARWICK Racecourse's new season gets underway on Tuesday, when the course hosts The Smarkets Racing UK Grand Season Opener, the first of 18 meetings stretching through the winter and finishing with the May Racing Carnival, writes David Hucker.

A good crowd is expected for what will be the first post-summer jump racing fixture for the South-West Jockey Club group of racecourses, with the gates opening at 12.20pm, two hours ahead of the first race.

During the summer break, a new service road has been installed on the inside of the track, which will not only help the groundstaff working between meetings, but also make for a quicker and smoother passage for ambulances and medics that follow the horses round at speed, ready in case of an accident.

Also completed is work to the canterdown in front of the stands, converting it from woodchip to fibresand.

As well as being in use on racedays, the route will be accessible as a safe cycle path for school children heading to the local Aylesford School.

The work of the groundstaff has been recognised by their winning the jumps track category in the annual Showcase & Awards from the Racecourse Association for the second year running. They will be up against Ascot and Great Yarmouth for the overall winner’s prize.

There will be new on-course betting facilities when the course re-opens, with William Hill, who have signed a five-year deal to operate at all 15 Jockey Club courses, replacing Betfred.

The course has seen a high demand for memberships ahead of the new season, with those for the Coronation Club completely sold out.

Memberships start from £150 and a new feature this year is the Raceday Essentials Package, which includes a food and drink voucher, racecard and betting voucher for £32.50.

“It’s a very exciting time here at the racecourse with the season just around the corner,” said general manager Andre Klein.

“The grounds team have worked tirelessly to get the course ready for the upcoming season and it is in fantastic condition. With the course improvements over the summer, I can only see us going from strength-to-strength” added Klein.

Course ambassador Dan Skelton will be targeting a fourth successive top trainer title, after enjoying 12 winners at the course last season. His brother Harry will be looking to secure back-to-back top jockey honours as he continues his battle with Richard Johnson for the national title.

Boosted by the early season form of the horses trained by Dan, Harry had set a scorching pace at the top of the table, leading 76-49 as jumps racing returned from a short summer break on 15th August.

However, it has been very much Johnson who has been in the ascendency since. Whilst Skelton’s score has crept up to 85, the three-time champion has rocketed to 76 to be just nine behind after the meeting at Worcester on Monday.

Johnson’s upsurge is thanks in no small part to the raiding parties sent to England and Scotland by leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott and he has access to a wider range of trainers than Skelton, who has only ridden one winner outside the family stable.

Another to look out for in the coming months is Elliott’s former assistant Olly Murphy, who is now in his second season of training at Wilmcote, having chalked up 28 jump winners so far to follow the 47 in his first campaign. Add in ten winners on the flat and the century mark should not be long in coming.

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