New direction is an immediate hit

Thumbs up from key participants

Published 28/04/2015 | 00:00

Action from the racing in Bettyville on Tuesday
Action from the racing in Bettyville on Tuesday
Horses jumping a fence on the altered course at Bettyville on Tuesday
Derek and Rory Thomas

There was a real change of direction for Wexford racecourse on Tuesday as horses raced anti-clockwise for the first time in the 61-year history of the track.

Organisers, trainers, jockeys and punters alike gave the experiment a resounding thumbs up on a sunny afternoon in Bettyville.

Racecourse manager Michael Murphy was clearly delighted with how things panned out.

'It was very positive. There wasn't one complaint. The flights in front of the stands brought the people closer to the action, they could see the skill the jockey produces to get the horse over the fence,' he said.

It looks like left-handed racing will become a permanent fixture, with Murphy indicating he would need to be a brave man to backtrack on the decision now.

'We still have to get the all flat meeting on May 9 out of the way and if that goes well we can put pen to paper as to whether we go with it, but the feeling is that jockeys won't want to ride any other way in Wexford in future.

'I'll put it this way, from talking to the riders if I told them to ride the old way I'd be told what to do with myself. I would say very simply it's out of my hands after getting a taste of going that way.

'We have a number of flat jockeys coming down on Thursday to test it out for themselves, and we look forward to getting their verdicts afterwards,' he added.

The only slight concern among punters was that the winning post is now a fair distance from the stand but a big screen went a long way to alleviating that problem, and Murphy said there may be moves to allow spectators get closer to the finishing line in the pipeline.

'A lot of people said they thought the big screen was very good. That covers the problem for the moment but we probably will extend the enclosure up there in time,' he said.

Crossabeg trainer Liz Doyle, who saddled two winners at her local track, was fulsome in her praise for everyone involved.

'It couldn't have gone any better, no fallers. I don't think there was even any serious mistake. It seemed to be a lot fairer finish. The horses aren't as unbalanced as coming down the hill, it seems to have worked out really, really well.

'Michael and everyone else that made the decisions on it, especially Val O'Connell (clerk of the course) are hugely relieved and the jockeys have to be very pleased with it. No fallers on a full National Hunt card is unbelievable,' she said.

Jessica Harrington echoed the sentiments as she went to greet Annie Oakley in the winners' enclosure.

'I think it's great. It's riding very well and they seem to be jumping it well and it makes a much better spectacle with the jumps in front of the stands,' she said.

Jockey Seán Flanagan, fresh from his success aboard All The Way Home, was pleased with how the course rode.

'It's a completely different job altogether, anything is an improvement on the way it was. It actually rides like a really nice track now. You've a good stiff uphill finish the whole way home and compared to the way it used to be the best horse will win if you get a clear enough run,' he said.

Punters at the meeting were equally impressed with the transformation and Niall Denton from Screen had nothing but praise for the decision.

'I think it's better track going that way around. It's more of a staying, galloping track and it's a great spectacle down in front of the stands with the two hurdles or fences. It's safer as well, instead of coming down the hill and riding across the road when they used to get unbalanced,' he said.

Another regular racegoer, Dominic Williams from Park, was in agreement.

'First impressions are very good, having the two flights in front of the stands is a major plus. The finishing post being further up the track is something that's going to have to be looked at but I'd imagine the executive have that planned. Overall I'd definitely be in favour of it,' he said.

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