My friend Andy Bartlett, who, before he started the GO ROAM app, was a racing jockey suggested we went to Pontefract races one day, as it was a course I had never been to. In the event, he was unable to go on the date agreed, but I had arranged my accommodation coming back from London at the Premier Inn Doncaster, and train travel so I decided to stick to the arrangements and take advantage of the £11.30 advance fare from Pontefract to Chester-le-Street which was less than a quarter of the fare on the day. I even had a table of four to myself on a class 185 TransPennine train from Leeds back home, and a pleasant meal between trains on the south side of Leeds station using the platform 16 exit.
Pontefract has three railway stations – Monkhill and Baghill, but Tanshelf is closest to the racecourse served from both Wakefield and Leeds. It’s only a ten minute walk across the park and I collected my Premier badge (I had been in a Premier Inn the previous night after all) and it was no problem to leave my baggage in the Raceday office. I had booked in advance a meal voucher and a tour behind the scenes. I was amazed to find that no-one else had booked the tour. So I had a one-to-one with a former female jockey who was also the presenter on the PA based in the winner’s enclosure. I was even allowed in the stewards’ office and jockeys’ changing room and their tea room too. After lunch, at which I made my selection for the toteplacepot from the programme (£3), I went to consult the prices of the on course bookies.
Pontefract has three separate enclosures or areas. Starting at the winning post and moving down the course, they are the Premier (£25 per person), the Grandstand and Paddock (£17) and the Picnic which is only £6 through the turnstiles. Even this more basic area had plenty of undercover seating, a bar, and catering outlets and two brave bookies located separately from the main betting ring. I made the acquaintance of Mark Ryan, the Betting Ring Manager, who explained how it was that in one race most of the bookies declined to take each way bets and just offered Win Only.
In the course of the afternoon one horse came second a 50-1 and another third at 33-1, but I had not backed either, nor indeed any winners at all, but it was a very friendly course, close to the station, pleasant traditional architecture, and it only rained for a few minutes all afternoon. I have resolved to find out what happened to the “Back a Winner by Train” promotion which has not surfaced for a few years, despite its reduced price entry and discount placepot being very popular with punters.
Racing starts next season at Pontefract on Tuesday 7th April. Redcar races is also close to Redcar Central station.
Look out next month for the nationalrail.com map of all the railway stations in the United Kingdom. It also tells the story of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower ship which launched from Rotherhithe, London, in 1620, 400 years ago. The map will be officially launched on Wednesday 6th November in Rotherhithe, London, at the Brunel Museum.
Anybody actually attending the launch at 1600 can obtain a FREE copy of the map, which will thereafter also be available by mail order at £10 plus postage and packing.
Full details in the December copy of the magazine.