Head groundsman Thomas Wootten is carrying on a family tradition as he gets Carlisle Racecourse well and truly spruced up for Red Rum Day and the start of the 2017 jumps season.
For the past 30 years a Wootten has overseen getting Cumbria’s premier racecourse ready for the National Hunt season.
Proudly following in the footsteps of his father Tony, who was head groundsman at the Durdar track from 1987 to 2012, Thomas is now putting the final preparations in place for Red Rum Day on Thursday October 19th.
He and his dedicated ground staff are readying Carlisle’s historic jumps and hurdles courses with hundreds of bundles of birch and truck loads of spruce, both used to create the obstacles which provide such a test for some of the nation’s best chasers and hurdlers.
Thomas said: “Preparations are going really well and we are looking forward to Red Rum Day and the start of the season on October 19th.
“We’ve finished preparing the hurdles and are now well on with the renewal of the jumps which is an intricate job. We completely renew three of the nine fences each year and this is a really specialist work.
“All fences must meet stringent standards in terms of height and the thickness of the birch used. For horse welfare they cannot be too hard or too soft and we must get that balance spot on for them to pass inspection by the British Horse Racing Association (BHA).
“The course is looking in good shape. It’s regarded as such a good test for horses, the uphill finish is a tough one and makes for exciting racing. I’m really pleased with how it’s coming together and cannot wait for the season to start.”
The Racecourse, which named its hurdles course in honour of Tony Wootten who is now retired, uses around 2,000 bundles of birch every season to construct and renew each of the nine 4ft 6in high jumps which are then topped off with spruce.
The Jockey Club has invested more than £50,000 in enhanced drainage and general improvements of the course over the last year.
Geraldine McKay, Carlisle Racecourse’s General Manager, said: “The course is looking fantastic. Thomas and his team have once again worked hard to ensure that when the jumps season starts everything is in tip-top condition.
“Carlisle is regarded by trainers and jockeys as a real test and this creates some excellent National Hunt racing. This is only possible due to the hard work and dedication of all the team here.
“There have been many improvements made to the track over the last few years and this is reflected in the many leading owners, trainers and jockeys who grace our fixtures over the course of the season. We obviously cannot wait for the season to start.”
October 19th is the second annual Red Rum Day which celebrates the legendary feats of the world’s best loved steeplechaser.
Red Rum famously prepared for each of his National wins (1973, 1974 and 1977) by first riding a winner at Carlisle’s first autumn meeting. A win in Cumbria – in 1972, 1973 and 1976 – was certainly a good omen as when Rummy failed to triumph over the jumps at Carlisle in the autumn he then failed to win at Aintree.
The great horse was trained by the legendary Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain, whose son Donald Jr – himself a Grand National Winner with Ballabriggs in 2011 – is a regular at the course.
Donald McCain, who last season labelled Carlisle as “the best track in the north of England for jump racing”, said: “Carlisle has been good to me and that’s why we continue to send plenty of horses there.
“It suits our horses, they are tough and honest, and particularly on the outside hurdles track. Carlisle is a good education for them.
“It’s highly likely we’ll have some ready to go (on October 19th) to give them a test.”
Carlisle is once again running the Windermere Handicap Chase on October 19th – the very same three-mile chase as won three times by Red Rum.
The Racecourse has launched a search for a race sponsor. All proceeds will go to Racing Welfare, the registered charity which supports British horseracing’s workforce.
The sponsorship is open to individuals or companies who will have the race named after them and every penny raised going to help racing’s dedicated stable and support staff.
Tickets for Red Rum Day at Carlisle Racecourse – Thursday October 19th – are £14.00 (in advance) or £17.00 (on the day). Gates open at 12.10pm. First race is 2.10pm. Last race is 5.25pm.
To submit a bid to sponsor the Windermere Handicap Chase please email Geraldine.McKay@thejockeyclub.co.uk or call the racecourse on 01228 554700. Bids must be submitted by 5pm Thursday October 12th