The Secret Racegoer visits Fontwell
There is something quite pleasing about going to a smaller racecourse on one of its quieter days – no need to hurry, everything done at its own pace, including by some of the horses.
So it was at Fontwell in West Sussex, famous for its figure-of-eight chase course.
A train from London that’s taken 90 minutes to wind through Surrey and Sussex, passing Arundel castle and cathedral, pulls into Barnham station two miles from the racecourse and a handful of racegoers form an orderly queue to wait ten minutes for the shuttle bus.
The driver announces that return buses will depart at 5.25 and 5.55. “We’ll get the 5.55” says one passenger, “so that we can collect our winnings”. “We’ll get the 5.25” replies his wife.
But we’re not ready to go yet. The driver pops over the road to the Co-op for a packet of Doritos and a couple of more trains pull into Barnham from various parts of the south coast bringing with them more racegoers.
Fontwell can be described as a small racecourse with large pub attached.
The pub is The Old Stables. Big, with wooden beams, sizeable garden, plenty of customers and about 100 metres from the racecourse entrance. It has a decent menu and serves a fine pint of Guinness.
The Friday March spring meeting is not one of Fontwell’s busiest, and a single-enclosure is in operation. This means, said the website, that all racegoers can enjoy the Premier Enclosure facilities. I’m not sure why. It offers limited viewing and is further away from the parade ring.
Fontwell is a track where the grandstand enclosure is more conveniently located and provides better viewing of the racing.
But the best view is across the track on the infield, especially at the intersection where the last fence is fifty metres away from the second fence down the back straight (if you can have a back straight on a figure-of-eight layout). Racegoers trot from one fence to the other to meet up with the field.
Here you get up close to the greatest exponents of jump racing, which included champion jockey Richard Johnson riding a double for trainer Philip Hobbs which brought up the handler’s 14th seasonal century.
There was also a double for trainer Gary Moore, with sons Jamie and Josh booting them home. Keep an eye on Waikiki Waves, owned by Heart of the South racing, a sydicate that does very nicely with its jumpers.
But the ride of the day went to Nick Scholfield who kept the Jack Barber charge Shintori towards the rear and was produced just when he needs it to lead at the last and kept him going to win the 2m3f handicap chase by three-quarters-of-a-length.
However, it was a day of contrasting fortunes for riders, when Red Devil Star made a hash of one of the fences and unseated Michael Nolan who was taken to hospital with what looked like a bad leg injury.
Among the refreshment facilities which were open was the Guinness Lounge, where customers form an orderly queue for a pint of the black stuff or one of the lesser beers. Trouble is, it takes eight minutes before you reach the bar for one of the two bar staff hands over the second pint of the day.
But that does mean there’s time to read a business card that’s been left on the tables. It announces that the betting exchange market is to get a new player in May. Joining Betfair, Betdaq and Matchbook is the Honest Joe Betting Exchange.
With the last race at 5.20 and the first return bus to Barnham station leaving at 5.25, racegoers who skipped the finale formed an orderly queue at the bus.
Not so orderly was the charge across the car park from those who stayed to see the bumper but somehow everyone managed to get on board.
I’m not sure if the husband and wife were successful in the last and had to wait to collect their winnings, but another passenger was asked how he got on. “Rubbish”, he said, “but then you’re not supposed to win, are you?”