On Track- Christmas at Sedgefield

CHRISTMAS is always a special time for racing, but it will be doubly so this year for Emma White, who is about to stage her first Boxing Day fixture in the role of general manager at Sedgefield.

Not that being out and about on a racecourse on one of the sport’s busiest days will be a new experience, for she has spent the last four Boxing Days at Wetherby, the base for her previous job as general manager of Go Racing in Yorkshire.

“It was quite funny to be asked at my interview for the Sedgefield job, ‘How do you feel about working on Boxing Day?’” she says. “Well, that was one question I could answer without too much thought. In terms of working on the day itself it’s really no different, just a bit further up the A1.”

The one big difference, though, is that Emma is in charge, and she readily admits: “It’s quite scary, but everyone at the racecourse is full-on for the build-up. In fact, planning starts the day after the last one and it’s there in the back of people’s minds throughout the season.

“Boxing Day is Sedgefield’s biggest day of the year. We’ve built up some big events in recent years, such as Durham National day, Cheltenham Tuesday and ladies’ evening in August, but Boxing Day still contributes massively to the year’s success.

“As for the atmosphere, it’s more of a family-oriented day than other meetings, a good excuse for people to get out of the house and take in some fresh air.”

Having started her job towards the end of October, Emma was pitched into Boxing Day preparations from the off, and so far, so good.

Emma White and the Sedgefield team are preparing for a bumper Boxing Day

“There’s not a seat to be had in any restaurant, which is brilliant,” she reports. “We have three restaurants and eight corporate boxes, but also the Pavilion bar and the bistro and more mobile food outlets than usual.

“This year we’ve also put up a marquee that’s serving an Indian buffet, which we’ve had to extend in size three-times-over because it’s sold so well.

“Even though it’s our busiest day of the year, it’s all about making sure that everybody who comes to Sedgefield has a brilliant time, no matter which enclosure they are in, and that takes some planning.”

Scheduling staffing arrangements so that everyone gets a slice of the festive action is one of Emma’s priorities.

“We’ll all be flat out in the week before Christmas and by the Friday I should be able to walk round and sign off each area,” she says. “Declarations are being made on the Sunday, so one of the girls will nip into the office for an hour to get the racecards underway.

“I’ll be on site on Christmas Eve but with nothing to do, I hope. It may not work out that way, but that’s Plan A. I’ll try to get all the staff home early on Christmas Eve, so they can enjoy time with family and friends.

“Then it will be a very early start on Boxing Day. I’ll probably be in the office for 5.30am, checking everything’s working and on schedule, and that there are no last-minute emergencies.”

The only permanent staff scheduled – all things going well – to make an appearance on Christmas Day to check the going are clerk of the course Eloise Quayle and trainee clerk Michael Naughton, both Boxing Day newcomers to Sedgefield.

Quayle, who left Windsor at the end of its season, is providing cover until she takes over from Charlie Moore as clerk at Uttoxeter on 1 January, while former jump jockey Naughton is learning the ropes with a view to taking on the role permanently.

Eloise Quayle will be walking the course on Christmas Day to ensure it’s in tip-top condition (image courtesy George Hill)

Emma White is not planning to be on course on Christmas Day, “unless there’s an issue.”

“I’ll be cooking the Christmas dinner instead,” she says. “My mum and dad are joining my husband and our seven-year-old daughter Lissy at home just outside Northallerton. So, if it’s a normal Christmas Day for me, I will know that everything is okay at Sedgefield.”

However, like all racecourse officials with a Boxing Day fixture in mind, Emma will be checking the weather situation on Christmas Day more than once.”

“I’ve been looking at the Boxing Day weather forecast for at least two weeks,” she says. “When I took the job, I didn’t realise how obsessed about the weather I was going to become. Now I drive the family crazy over it.

“So far the forecast is for it to be sunny and quite chilly but with no chance of a bad frost. It should be absolutely perfect for this time of year. Real winter National Hunt weather.

“I’m really excited, but nervous, in a good way, if that makes sense. I just want everything to go well and everyone to enjoy themselves and have a good time.”

A significant crowd will enjoy the Boxing Day racing at Sedgefield