What is it with Nottingham? Does the racecourse truly exist or is it one those computer generated fantasy courses like Steepledowns that punters who lack a proper life bet on to while away the time between their medication? If Nottingham closed would we miss it? Not that I am suggesting it should close, far from it. The removal from the calendar of any racecourse is cause enough to slow my heartbeat and excite an inner discourse on how the world is going to hell in a handcart. Indeed I personally yearn for racecourses I have never known, even those like Aldershot whose demise came in 1939, long before I was a twinkle in my father’s eyes, and for whom I know practically nothing (the racecourse not my father) and Gatwick where the gates closed in 1948 and where once, though it is impossible to imagine, a substitute Grand National was staged.
To my mind racecourses should have preservation notices assigned to them, so that in the decades ahead when most of the green belt will have been sacrificed to housing development these places of sporting endeavour can be green oases of tranquillity in a grey and soulless sprawl of humanity.
What I am ponderously driving at is that to all extent and purpose Nottingham is largely anonymous. Grenville Davies wrote its history and to be honest little has ever happened at Colwick, pronounced colic, Park to justify the time and research devoted to the subject. Nottingham had a racecourse, not at Colwick Park, as far back as 1689 and in1770 Eclipse walked over in the King’s Plate, (to be honest the great horse walked over nearly as many times as he actually galloped to victory) having no doubt walked the byways and green lanes of England to Nottinghamshire from his home in Epsom.
Colwick Park opened in 1892 and apart from staging a war-time Cambridgeshire, the first ever staging of the famous handicap on a Saturday, Jockey Club Cup and Cheveley and Middle Park Stakes, nothing much of note has happened in its history, though it nearly closed in 1965 and in recent years it was decided to concentrate on flat racing and to do away with its National Hunt course. A strange fact that early in its history Nottingham was referred to as the Kempton Park of the Midlands. Ominous or what!
Let us neither bemoan nor criticise the decision to abandon National Hunt in favour of flat racing. I dare say the decision, as ill-considered and cockleheaded as it was, was based on hard economical fact, and if jettisoning one discipline of the sport was for the greater good of the racecourse then we must suppose for the sake of argument that the correct decision was made.
Courses like Nottingham should be given all assistance possible by the powers-that-be to help ensure their survival. It is all very noble to start petitions after the redevelopment plans have been served but it would be more helpful if these racecourses were given practical help to survive and thrive. Remember in 1965 Colwick Park was earmarked for housing. Who is to say, during a period of our history when new housing is apparently desperately needed and the planning process is clearly skewed in favour of the destroyers of the environment, that the plans of 1965 will not be revisited?
In my opinion, and this idea is more in way of making racecourses less anonymous than in ensuring their viability, though perhaps the two concepts walk hand-in-hand, every racecourse should have a signature race or signature meeting. If I was to ask what is Fakenham’s main race of the year would anyone know? Or Windsor. Or Hereford. I suspect Nottingham’s signature race is the Nottingham Stewards Cup, a six-furlong handicap.
It’s this extra 8-million bound for prize-money next season that is exercising my imagination at the moment and the best way to utilise the windfall. I would hate to see one penny of it go to the major races. If half-a-million quid isn’t enough incentive to get good horses into races then I can’t see an extra 100 grand will make any difference. This money should benefit the grass roots, the Nottingham’s of the racing calendar. In a previous article I have suggested instigating summer festival meetings replicating the model that is so successful in Ireland. I would also suggest assigning six-figure chunks of the 8-million to racecourse like Nottingham to boost the prize fund for its Stewards Cup and to give the course say a 2 or 3 day fixture where local businesses and cultural activities could combine with the racecourse to boost the local economy and to highlight the entertainment that can be found at Colwick Park throughout the flat season.
Every racecourse, no matter if owned privately or by the Jockey Club, deserve the united support of every aspect of the industry. 8-million quid may not be enough to create a rainbow of opportunity over the sport but without the grass roots thriving there is the inherent threat that the whole sport will slowly descend into sporting irrelevance.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.