30 August 2015 – The Times
The Saturday night show on Yarmouth pier was called Funny Business and, racing being a cynical parish, that was exactly the charge levelled at the local racecourse as it stood idle for a year. Most of the Norfolk regulars, fuelled by rumour and resentment, believed it would never be back.
Glenn Tubby, the executive director, tired of trying to persuade the doubters. “From last autumn, everyone seemed to think we’d be closed for good,” he said. “When we didn’t reopen to the original schedule in June, all the comments started again. “Someone even said to me it must be a tax dodge by our owners. I could have begun to wonder if they all knew more than me but I kept telling them we’d hardly spend £300,000 and then shut down.”
This seaside venue lies a few yards from the beach and a splendid seafood restaurant, almost as popular with Newmarket’s leading trainers as the exemplary straight mile. Long before the final meeting last September, though, the course had fallen into disfavour over increasingly prominent ridges and furrows. Yesterday, in the party atmosphere of Family Fun Day, those who kept the faith were rewarded. Yarmouth’s first meeting since last September brought a 7,000 crowd and, crucially, a healthy number of those professionals whose misgivings over the track had necessitated drastic action.
Ed Dunlop, who saddled the first winner on the revamped track, confessed he had believed Yarmouth should stay closed until next year to allow more time for the turf to settle. He added, however: “All the champion trainers used to bring their best two-year-olds here and that stopped because we didn’t trust the track. Levelling it out has made a big difference.” Roger Varian, who brought four runners, explained: “As a trainer, you listen to your jockey and when they’re telling you at increasing volume that the track is uneven and throwing horses off balance, you’d be a fool not to listen.”
Arena Leisure Company (ARC) has been accused of many things but its executives clearly did listen. In a process that has taken several months longer than planned, the home straight was dug up and relaid, flatter and fairer than before. It was laborious, prolonged but eventually justified. Susannah Gill, ARC’s director of external affairs, said yesterday: “There were trainers who said it didn’t need such action but we just got on with it. It’s been money well spent. We always knew it would come back but things didn’t go entirely to plan. Yarmouth has been missed.”
Plainly, that was the view of yesterday’s crowd. Yarmouth is nobody’s idea of a chic resort but it fulfils a demand and this, traditionally, is the day when the campers and caravanners pack their wind-breaks and gazebos and bring the kids to the races. Tubby reported bookings 20 per cent up on last year and a sold-out restaurant.
It will be a more serious racing crowd later this month, for the three-day Eastern Festival, and Yarmouth can now approach its biggest fixture with confidence.
Preparations for yesterday were complicated by 40mm of rain in midweek and only half the width of the track was used, due to a patch of loose ground 50 yards from the post. Jockeys, whose feedback had been nervously awaited, were generally satisfied with conditions. Paul Hanagan, who rode a double, said: “It’s riding pretty slow and it will take time to bed in. But it’s massively different from last year and rides perfectly level.” Tom Queally, having won on Up In Lights, added: “It’s an improvement — and anything that’s an improvement is a good thing.”