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Friday 15 May 2009

THE new general manager of Redcar racecourse is confident she is on to a winner. Amy Fair joined the Cleveland course after stints at Market Rasen, Newmarket and Nottingham, and she is excited about what lies ahead.

“There are plenty of places I didn’t want to work,” she said, explaining why she made the move. “I like my flat racing – I am not a fan of all-weather racing – and I like jump racing.

“My history is jump racing at Market Rasen, flat racing at Newmarket and Nottingham and then here at Redcar.

“I have been here to watch friends’ horses run and sometimes you look at a course and you think, ‘crikey, it’s all been done’. I came up here, to a course much loved by local people, and thought, ‘crikey, there’s so much potential’.

“I think Redcar is one of the best-kept secrets in the sport, and I want to get more decision makers in the racing industry in London to visit to see how good it is.

“My predecessor was a Tees Valley man who was very well-known and respected within the business community and I would like to build on all that he achieved.”

With the recession biting, it is getting ever harder to get people to part with their money, but Amy is convinced racing can ride out the worst of the storm.

“I think everybody is concerned because we are in the leisure industry,” she said. “We are not an essential, you don’t have to come racing.

“People have this concept that racing is going to be expensive and it’s not.  Entrance for the last feature day we had was £5 per person for adults and children under-16 were free of charge. If there are four of you, where else can you take your children for a day out and pay £10 to get in? And you can bring a picnic.

“You can pay more. In the grandstand enclosure it’s £15, but it’s not like going to the football, which might cost you £30 or more.

“We are promoting ourselves as a good entertaining day out for the family. The traditional punter is seen as an old man, who smokes and gambles a lot, whereas what we are actually about is having fun and bouncy castles, ice creams and sticky fingers.”

In an effort to widen the range of visitors coming to the course and to banish the myths further, August 9 will see a special day called School’s Out.

“It’s more educational, not forcing racing down your throat, but we will explain how it all works. It’s a bit of a newcomers’ day,” said Ms Fair.

“We have the Northern Racing College coming and there is a chance to go on the horse simulator and ride a finish.

“People can dress up as jockeys, try the kit on, talk to someone who has been a jockey and find out all about what food they eat, etc.”

The racecourse has been embroiled in controversy in recent times, especially with regard to a possible move out of the town, but if relationships with the local community have been damaged, Amy is confident they can be rebuilt.

“With all the hoo-ha in recent years, it is a shame that people have been saying things without actually coming racing,” she said.

“Come racing, tell us what you think. Give us some feedback, give us positive things that we can implement and we will aim to do so. We want to make improvements, but sometimes you cannot see the glaringly obvious.

“In recent years, people have got involved in all the politics. What frustrates me is when people say ‘oh yes, I want the racecourse to stay’, but they have never actually been racing. You think ‘come on, come and support us’.

“Times are difficult for everybody at the moment.  Life is tough. The first thing you do in a recession is stop advertising, so race sponsorship goes. You stop entertaining your clients, so hospitality goes. You stop training your staff, so that’s the conference side going. People stop getting married so that’s the wedding receptions gone.”

As a result, Redcar is having to look for new revenue streams. While companies are the mainstay of race sponsorship, individual families are also being offered the chance to see their name in lights.

“We had the Syd Burgess race recently,” she said. “That was a family sponsoring a race. It was his 80th birthday and they threw a surprise party. We are getting more and more inquiries for that sort of sponsorship.”

As for the future, Amy is focused on one thing.  “My remit is to make racing work here,” she said.

“We have to make the best of our facilities here. We haven’t got money to be splashing around. I would love to build a new grandstand, but we don’t have the money for that.

“We need really good days, like we had on Easter Monday, to make it worthwhile, because at the moment we are operating at a loss, which is really sad.

“Whatever happens, whether the racecourse stays or moves, we are looking at easily five years, because that’s how long it will take to get everything lined up. It takes a year just to settle the track.

“So we are not going to be going tomorrow – if it does happen; and that’s a big if.

“In the meantime, we have a cracking a little racecourse here.”


By Matt Westcott, Northern Echo, 12:18pm Wednesday 6th May 2009

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