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Wonderhorse Frankel rules even for York’s Lord
WHEREVER he goes the same question comes up. I have waited 20 minutes to ask it, but I can hold off no longer. Lord Grimthorpe is talking about being named the new chairman of York Race Committee but I want to discuss something else.
“He has that tremendous capacity to excite people,” says the new hand on the tiller at Knavesmire who, in his role as racing manager to Frankel’s owner Prince Khalid Abdullah, has seen at first hand the enomous global phenomenon that the wonderhorse has become.
“Wherever you go in the world, people come and ask you about Frankel. Wherever. I have done interviews in all corners of the earth on Frankel. He has the ability to create a huge amount of interest.
“He’s a horse that, whatever happens next year, is once in a generation. He can jump from the back to the front page.”
All of which is good news for those people who like their racing at York. Because, as you have read on the back page of The Press, we won’t have long to wait for his arrival. It’s only eight months until the Ebor Festival’s Juddmonte International.
That Lord Grimthorpe is the new chairman of the race committee, taking over from Nicholas Wrigley who held the position for six years, is a mere coincidence when it comes to Frankel’s race planning. The horse’s welfare, rather than the destination, will always come first.
Neither, however, is it a hindrance.
His links to Yorkshire are extensive.
His mother still lives at Westow, his father, who bred the 1977 1,000 Guineas winner Mrs McArdy, had horses with Mick Easterby at Sheriff Hutton and Jimmy FitzGerald and Pat Rohan at Malton.
And Lord Grimthorpe has been going to York Races ever since he can remember.
“I can’t think how long I have been going, but ever since I have been allowed,” he added.
“I joined the committee six years ago, just after Royal Ascot at York. It’s the whole atmosphere of York and the Yorkshire racing public are just the best.
“Like everybody, they want to go out and have a good time but they are really into what’s happening on the racecourse. They love to go and see the horse and, of course, all the personalities involved. That’s the whole fabric of racing.
“Like all genuine racegoers, they want to go and see the very good horse and get a piece of him really. That’s the exciting thing.
“It’s a huge honour and a privilege to be asked to do it (become chairman).
“The job that all my predecessors have done is one of progression, one of putting back into, firstly, the racecourse but, generally, racing in the whole community as well. It’s very important because our number one, and main catchment area, is the city of York.
“It is very vital that we maintain those links so people think of York as part of their own community. They can use it, it’s open for dinners, balls, exhibitions and everything else. It becomes part of the community.”
The change at York over the past 20 years has been astonishing. New stands, an improved race programme, bringing Royal Ascot and the St Leger, and a refurbished track are just some of the achievements of those who have come before.
Lord Grimthorpe knows he is in exulted company. That, however, will not influence his thinking.
“There’s no point in being radical for the sake of it,” he added when asked how he sees his role as chairman. “I think if you are too steady then things stagnate. I still want to be progressive.
“The board and the executive still have tremendous aspirations for York as a racecourse – in terms of the races we can put on and the quality of racing we can do – and the facilities we can offer the racing public.
“Certainly there are plenty of avenues that we have to look at in order to just maintain it but we also want to enhance it, we want to make it a better experience and we really want to be the leaders.”
That won’t mean expanding the number of days racing, however.
“I think 17 days seems to be the right amount, from the point of view of what the surface can take, what the public want and the quality that we are able to provide, in terms of racing and prize money,” he explained.
“It’s been particularly tough, especially this last year with the Levy being cut and racecourses having to find more and more out of their own coffers just to maintain their race programme – let alone increase it and add value to it.
“York is in a happy position where it is non-profit-making so everything does go back into the racecourse and racing.
“The beauty of York is the combination of the people that come and the horses that we can attract to make it special, to make it a really good day out.
“That’s the dedication of the whole team. They are really looking to provide good quality racing, food, entertainment and also value.
“Racecourses are competing with so many outside pressures for their time, their money, and if you don’t provide something that is worthwhile and value for money then they aren’t going to come.”
If passion and enthusiasm are anything to go by, then York Racecourse is in safe hands with Lord Grimthorpe.
“It’s unbelievable,” he concluded of his appointment.
“If you are brought up in Yorkshire all your life, and you love racing, then York is the pinnacle of everything.”
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