On Tuesday, April 16th, the 2019 Turf Flat Season ramps up a gear as Newmarket stages the opening day of its three-day Craven Meeting.

Course-Specialist was privileged to catch-up with Amy Starkey, Regional Director for the Jockey Club East, to learn what goes on behind the scenes and what is new on the Rowley Mile for this year.

When does the Craven Meeting take place in 2019?

We are all very excited about the return of racing to the Rowley Mile this spring and the recent warm weather has only served to aid preparations and build excitement. This year’s bet365 Craven Meeting once again takes place over three days, from Tuesday 16th to Thursday 18th April.

Why did the meeting revert to three days and how important is it that ITV Racing now covers this meeting once again?

The return to three days came about simply due to popular demand – our customers and the industry love the three-day format. The meeting may come hot on the heels of the Grand National but there can be no doubt that it represents the return of high-class Flat racing, and so it is great news for racing fans across the country that ITV carries live coverage of the key races on Tuesday and Wednesday.

When does Newmarket start preparations for the Craven Meeting, in terms of operations, ground management, recruitment and marketing?

Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newmarket Racecourse

Racing may only take place at Newmarket Racecourses from April to November but our team are busy the whole year round. Planning how we will promote, prepare for and then deliver our events is an ongoing process, which starts months and months in advance. It’s a year-round cycle.

Delivering racing fixtures and events that meet with the standards racegoers expect when they visit a Jockey Club racecourse requires thorough planning and I am proud of the team, who are dedicated to being the best they can be. Having worked on the plans with the team throughout the winter, it’s exciting to think that the new season is just around the corner.

And also for the Breeze-up Sales?

I am delighted to say that we recently agreed a new three-year partnership deal with Tattersalls, which includes the use of the Rowley Mile for their Craven and Guineas breeze-up sales. As our neighbours, we enjoy a strong relationship with Tatersalls and all our industry stakeholders in Newmarket and we enjoy working together as a team to deliver part of the sales process and more.

How does the atmosphere change at Newmarket in the build-up to the Craven Meeting? Do things suddenly become a lot busier?

There is no better place in the world than Newmarket as the industry builds to the start of the flat season and the Craven Meeting. The sense of excitement, anticipation and hope is palpable and it’s a great place to live and work.

The town itself takes on a totally different complexion as the days begin to get longer and once we get into February, the obvious difference is in the number of horses moving around the town as the work mornings get busier and busier.

At the racecourse, things ramp up and once the season begins, we are very busy throughout the campaign. Even the gaps in our fixture list, as we switch from the Rowley Mile to the July Course and back again, are packed, with our estates and operations teams working incredibly hard to ensure the two venues consistently meet our high standards.

The last 20 years has seen a change in the attitude of some top trainers of Guineas winners, preferring to go straight to the race. How much of a challenge has this been in ensuring the Craven Stakes and Nell Gwyn Stakes provide serious Guineas contenders? What initiatives does Newmarket take in ensuring top stables run their Guineas horses at the Craven Meeting?

Masar strides clear of Roaring Lion in the Craven Stakes
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newmarket Racecourse

The Craven Stakes has performed very well in recent seasons in terms of acting as a stepping stone to the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas. Masar finished third in the Guineas following his win last year and, of course, went on to land the Investec Derby. Roaring Lion meanwhile, who finished third in the Craven and fifth in the Guineas, enjoyed an amazing summer, winning four Group 1s and being crowned Cartier Horse of the Year.

A number of high-class horses have run in and won the race in recent years, so I am confident that the race is attractive enough for trainers to be sending some of their very best to compete in it.

While the Lanwades Stud Stakes, unlike the Craven, does carry a Group 1 penalty, it too has performed well in recent times, with the three-year average rating for its winners a touch over 106.

Are there any changes to the running order of this year’s Craven Meeting?

The late falling of Easter in 2019 has led to some changes to the Craven Meeting’s running order this year, with ITV Racing broadcasting only on Tuesday and Wednesday, in order to allow them to cover racing on Good Friday. Full details of the updated schedule can be found on our website but the most significant sees the bet365 Craven Stakes switch from the Thursday to the Wednesday, so that it can be broadcast by ITV. The normal structure of the meeting will resume in 2020.

Aside from racing, what other attractions will there be for the public at this year’s meeting?

This year’s meeting falls in the Easter school holidays, so we are expecting plenty of families to take the opportunity to enjoy the start of spring at the Rowley Mile. Alongside the racing there will be plenty of activity for families to enjoy.

How much work takes place between the Craven and Guineas Meetings, given footfall is so much greater at the Guineas Meeting?

Paddock View of Stands at Newmarket
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Newmarket Racecourse

A huge amount of work goes into all meetings that we stage at Newmarket. The planning cycle is ongoing and the team constantly strive to make improvements and introduce new initiatives at all our fixtures which will appeal to our diverse group of customers.

I am proud of how the customer experience has improved for our racegoers in recent years at both courses, which in turn has been rewarded with more people enjoying both the Craven and The QIPCO Guineas Festival. Alongside delivering the best racing, in the best facilities, we need to always improve the experience for our visitors to enjoy.

Are there any major new sponsors at Newmarket this year?

Our portfolio of sponsors has seen significant improvement in recent years and we are proud that we have strong relationship with many partners, including Darley, QIPCO and Juddmonte to name a few.

We welcome a number of partnership extensions this year including Tattersalls and Adnams.

Has there been any investment in infrastructure ahead of 2019 on the Rowley Mile or July Courses?

Visitors to the Rowley Mile this season will notice some changes to the parade ring, while we have continued with work that began last year to improve the public address system. We have also installed LED lighting and PIR sensors to the fourth floor of the Millennium Grandstand in our continued commitment to reduce our carbon footprint.

Tell me about Newmarket Racecourse’s/The Jockey Club’s commitment to local education – what initiatives are planned for 2019?

Painted horse, part of the education programme at Newmarket Racecourse

Newmarket Racecourses offers a number of exciting learning opportunities for young people in our community. Our Under Starter’s Orders Primary School Education Project, which affords pupils the chance to experience the inner workings of the racing and breeding industries, is delivered over a series of days with the help of key local partners. The scheme aims to create aspiration through engaging young people with the history and heritage of the community in which they live. Likewise, Dubai Future Champions Education Week seeks to raise the employment aspirations and expectations of Newmarket Academy students within and beyond the racing industry.

Tell me about the Newmarket Nights – what are the highlight acts signed so far?

The July Course has a reputation not only as a home to world-class racing but as a stage for some of the biggest names in music and we are excited about our line-up of shows for 2019. Our most recent announced was Years & Years, who will make their Newmarket Nights debut on Friday 16th August. One of the biggest British music success stories of the decade, I’m sure they will put on a fantastic show.

Full details of our line-up of live acts for 2019 can be found at www.newmarketracecourses.co.uk.

What percentage of Newmarket’s turnover do these evenings contribute over the year?

The Newmarket Nights and Summer Saturday Live concerts are an important part of our offering every year, alongside all of our major festivals and racedays. The shows have become hugely popular and offer something different for regular racegoers, as well as attracting those who may not have been racing before to come and give the sport a try.

For the community as a whole, the shows represent an opportunity to see world-class performers that people may otherwise have to travel many miles to enjoy, and bring important business not only to the racecourse but the town as a whole.

What are your main hopes and aims for 2019?

U S Navy Flag (right) in the July Cup

First and foremost, I hope to enjoy 39 meetings free of injury for all our participants, equine and human, because without the sacrifice they make for our enjoyment, this wonderful sport we love would not be possible.

I hope that on the track, we see champions crowned in our Classics and other Group 1 races, I hope the stars of tomorrow emerge, particularly at the Dubai Future Champions Festival, and I hope all owners and trainers who race at Newmarket this year enjoy a memorable and enjoyable experience with us. I hope too that all of our visitors have unforgettable days out at our two wonderful racecourses.

How can people book tickets for the Craven and Guineas Meetings?

Tickets are available online or over the phone, by calling 0344 579 3010. For group bookings, call 01638 675 500 and select option four. If you are attending multiple days of the two meetings then Annual Membership is well worth considering. With guaranteed entry to all 39 of our racedays in 2019, regardless of sell-outs, plus access to private facilities on-course, it is essential for all racing enthusiast.

For more information please visit: https://www.thejockeyclub.co.uk/newmarket/