SEAMUS BUCKLEY looked ahead to his 21st season at Goodwood racecourse – and predicted it would be a special one.
The popular clerk of the course said extra major investment in the track’s six-month programme of race fixtures – most of it from the £2m-plus sponsorship from Qatar for Glorious Goodwood – meant expectations for top-class racing were higher than ever.
But he insisted that’s a challenge he and the team relished.
Buckley is one of racing’s most familiar figures and shows absolutely no sign of losing any of his enthusiasm for preparing a surface fit for the best horses around.
He said he and the course team had been busy throughout the winter and spring keeping the site ticking over and working on the track.
A £40,000 project to refurbish the ‘washdown’ area where horses go to cool off after racing has been completed, taking the care given to the equine stars of the racecourse to a new level.
Buckley said: “We had a wet autumn and then a very wet January, which let us down. It slowed down the outdoor work we needed to do. We couldn’t really get to grips with the racecourse until early March.
“But as ever we have caught up and got things looking as we want them.”
Buckley said it had been as dry an April as he could remember, which had meant the groundstaff had needed to water.
He is pleased with the job done on the washdown area and said: “It’s been resurfaced with a rubber safety surface replacing the tiling that was there previously. It’s a 520 sq m area so was quite a job but the majority of it has been done in-house. There are new showers for the horses, too.
“We’re nothing without well-looked-after horses so it’s vitally important that we tend to their needs.”
Buckley admitted this first meeting of the season would be one of the hardest of the year, along with the first day of the five-day festival.
“The fact it is your first fixture of the year adds to the pressue and to the apprehension as it approaches,” he said. “I think I probably get more bnervous now than when I started all those years ago. The expectations are now so much higher. But it’s a nice challenge to have.
“Glorious week will be like never before with the Qatar sponsorship kicking in.
“The whole aim is to make it more of an international event – it’s a great coup.”
Racecourse managing director Adam Waterworth is equally enthusiastic about the year and said: “We’ve had a good stretch of weather in the past three weeks or so which has helped make the place look a picture.
“We’re happy with the condition of the course. You never want to be watering for the opening day but with the dry spell we’ve had no option.
“But the course is in good nick and the number of entries for Saturday – 147 before final declarations – backs that up.
“We have good strong entries for the two listed races, the Conqueror Stakes and Daisy Warwick Stakes, and those are races that we’ve invested in.
“We just hope there’s a bit of a superstar lurking in one of those listed races who will go on and wave the flag for Goodwood through the rest of the season. They’re two really good races.”
A food festival will be a feature of the opening day as staff attempt to give a new focus to the fixture in line with themes developed for other meetings during the season.
There will be an artisan and regional food festival running as part of the day’s off-track entertainment.
It includes a large gathering of ‘quirky’ and local food suppliers plus a special area celebrating and showcasing the Goodwood estate’s produce. There will, of course, be plenty of food and drink for racegoers to sample.