Racecourse In Focus- Market Rasen

A highest-ever VisitEngland score, a Showcase Award nomination, two A-list music artist concerts and thousands of happy racegoers—another successful season in the history of Market Rasen, a summer jumping racecourse in the heart of Lincolnshire.

Under the stewardship of Nadia Powell and now James Wilcox as Powell began maternity leave, Market Rasen has consistently performed well in recent years much to the delight of the industry. The racecourse has been given the coveted ‘Gold Standard’ by the Racehorse Owners Association in each of the last three years and is one of just six smaller racecourses to currently hold this accolade. Moreover, Market Rasen boasts two RCA Showcase Awards in the trophy cabinet and is a Finalist in the 2018 renewal in the Love of the Sport category.

Perhaps the most revealing statistic is the racecourse’s performance in the Quality Assured Racecourse Scheme run by VisitEngland. 2018’s mystery-shop assessment saw Market Rasen achieve its highest-ever score, a feat not lost on Wilcox. “We’ve always taken the VisitEngland reports seriously and Nadia began a project to take a look at all areas of our customer journey.

“We thought about how we could improve lots of areas by a small amount which ultimately will change the raceday experience for the better. Things like vanity stations in our bathrooms, hydration stations (complimentary iced, fruited, water) at all public bars and just adding smart furniture into previously empty spaces has been well received by our racegoers.

“The biggest focus has been on catering. We want people to come here and enjoy fantastic food and tell their friends. We’ve looked at what’s contemporary amongst our competitors and the way in which it’s served. Hospitality is hugely important, so we’ve made a conscious effort to keep a consistent group of staff in key areas who recognise the standards we set.”

Like other racecourses staging racing this summer, the biggest challenge to overcome was the heatwave which gripped the nation throughout most of July and August. As with all racecourses, equine welfare is at the forefront of considerations, a fact emphasised with the unusual conditions. “As a summer jumping venue we are fully aware of our responsibilities to the competitors, both human and equine” explains Wilcox. “We have purchased misting fans so that this state of the art service is available at all racedays and have spent a significant sum on other areas which directly benefit the sport, including a new, larger washdown area and rubberised horse-walk. We’re striving to follow the Jockey Club’s core brand values of which one is the ‘Best for Racing’ and the results have supported our work—average field sizes have increased by 1.5 throughout the season.”

What of attendances—would they stand up to the distraction of a World Cup and BBQ summer? “Our three key events, Summer Plate, Paloma Faith race night and the Prelude beer festival have all performed fantastically well. Through Jockey Club Live we were able to welcome not only Paloma Faith but also Plan B— these are big names and Brit Award winners so it was a real thrill to bring them to Market Rasen.”

“Our feature raceday, the Summer Plate, had a record attendance this year. We worked closely with Lincs FM to generate a suitable buzz around the area and the atmosphere on the day was fantastic. Our innovative VIP area created a new space for racegoers based solely on their feedback—we offered more seating, more toilets, a more diverse range of food. Tickets sold out and already we’re looking at how this can be developed further for 2019.”

For Wilcox himself, this season represents a personal career highlight having been accepted onto the prestigious Jockey Club Management Scheme. The scheme sees aspiring racecourse managers taken from within the Jockey Club and given experience at each of the four regions, working on a variety of areas of racecourse administration. Recent alumni include Liam Johnson and Molly Dingwall who are now managing Huntingdon and Carlisle Racecourses respectively.

“I’m enjoying the scheme so much and am grateful for the opportunity to manage a racecourse like Market Rasen” explains Wilcox. “It’s been a whirlwind few months finishing work at Epsom Downs for the Investec Derby and starting at Market Rasen soon afterwards. The support I’ve had from colleagues in the Jockey Club East region including Amy Starkey, Liam Johnson and James Knox has been invaluable. Nadia’s help has been vital in preparing me for managing a racecourse and I owe her a lot of thanks.”

As an integral player in the summer jumps circuit, it is important for the sport that such a racecourse continues to thrive. Racing has taken place around the 1 ¼ mile track since 1924, with recent notable winners including Synchronised, Altior, Don’t Push It and Tiger Roll—the former two horses subsequently going on to Cheltenham Festival glory with the latter two achieving legendary status as Grand National winners. It may be prudent to keep the winners from 2018 at Market Rasen in your notebook for the major festivals in 2019!