The Joys of Plumpton…..In Any Weather
The joy’s of Plumpton jump racing on a grey winter’s day……. It may not sound that enticing, but to a committed jump racing fan, starved of decent competition for several weeks due to Britain’s exceptional ‘whiteout’, it was very welcome sustenance.
A Special Place
Plumpton is one of those places that really feels like home. The racing itself, in terms of strict classification, may only be of moderate standard, but offers the attraction of the occasional visit from the potential equine superstar or two, or an ex-star racehorse declining gently from the big time. For the most part it has a loyal following, both equine and human. My interest in the racecourse began in earnest when I was lucky enough to live just down the road, in Chailey, from the late eighties to the mid nineties. I live a bit further away now, but it still exerts a pervasive hold over me, and I get to visit the course as often as possible, especially on winter Monday’s, where the atmosphere can be quite unique and captivating.
The Race that never was, and of which I almost never knew!
The racecourse gained notoriety on a personal level for falling foul of freak weather conditions at key moments for me. Having arranged to have a race to be named after me as a surprise birthday present, my wife persuaded me to take the day off from work, and presented me with the Sporting Life and Racing Post, where I read of the race, initially only to think it was a coincidence, (are there two Martin Wynn’s in Plumpton?) before becoming very animated, and naturally being certain I would back the winner!
With excitement levels reaching fever pitch at home, I was swiftly brought back to earth in the manner of a falling jockey when the meeting was called off due to frost and snow.
Having rearranged the event for the next available meeting a month or so later, in the light of my previous disappointment, my wife urged me to check with the course that the meeting was still on this time, which I did reluctantly, as on the surface the weather appeared to be fine, and I was confident that there were no obstacles to prevent racing going ahead. Much to my frustration and disbelief, racing was cancelled again, this time as a result of water-logged course!
I might have been forgiven for thinking my luck at Plumpton was cursed at this point, but as it turned out, our next attempt at organising a special occasion was much more successful, hiring two boxes for friends and family to celebrate my 40th birthday.
I achieved an almost unheard of (for me anyway) 5 winners from 6 races. The most memorable success being that of a course regular and long time favourite of mine, Our Jolly Swagman. I introduced a number of friends and family to the joys of, and possible financial benefits from, jump racing. Nearly all of our party had some sort of success that day, which made it particularly special, and we received delightful and professional service from all of the racecourse and support staff deployed to our boxes.
The scent of the racecourse
Driving down to the course on race day, from Horsham, I develop a keen sense of anticipation for the day’s proceedings, at odds with the modest level of potential financial gain or loss that I may incur. Plumpton racecourse just smells and feels right, like it was always meant to be an honest, well functioning racecourse.
A Horse’s breath….
Apart from its great location near the South Downs, the course exudes a charm from every pore, from its ‘subtly faded’ grandstands to its accessible winner’s enclosure. What is appealing throughout the place is the possibility to get close to things, be it Trainers and Jockeys passing the short distance from the weighing room to the paddock, standing by the fence in the home straight and listening to the thrum of horses hooves as they plough through the mud and up the home straight, or listening to a few pearls of wisdom (or not) from the race commentator (more of which later) or watching proceedings unfold in the paddock.
Modest, but highly competitive
Monday’s racing was of a fairly modest grade, although the combatants still worked to produce two excellent finishes, the first involving the ‘Choc’ Thornton/Alan King Triumph Hurdle aspirant, Salden Licht making heavy weather (quite literally) of overcoming the apparently, according to the form book, extremely average Sarando.
A thrilling finish
The second managed to make an exciting contest out of a three horse race, the perpetual bridesmaid Song Sung Blue finally getting her head in front of Lupanar in a pulsating finish, despite the over zealous urgings, according to the stewards at least, of Philip Hide, who received a one day ban for over use of the whip in the home straight.
He only has to jump the last to win….
Perhaps the most incident packed finish came in the 3.10, a two and a half mile chase featuring one of several course regulars at the meeting, The Hardy Boy, nineteen times a participant at the track, and five times a winner. Not this time though, as the maiden Uncle Eli approached the last unopposed, with the race commentator, Mike Cattermole’s words undoubtedly ringing in Liam Treadwell’s ears for a while yet “he only has to jump the last to win for the very first time”. Inevitably, for the second time at the last fence this season Uncle Eli stubbornly declined to oblige, unshipping his jockey with the race at his mercy, and letting in Noble Bily for an unexpected and unlikely victory.
No winners but…
As I left to make the familiar journey home, having failed to secure as much as a single winner all afternoon, I reflected on just why I liked the place so much. It wasn’t down to the quality of the racing, nor the refined finesse of the surroundings, just the real and genuine pleasures of honest and very competent endeavour and of a satisfying and modestly staged production very well performed. It is a compact venue and an engaging place to be, and to feel, part of the proceedings. Long may it continue!
A footnote on worthy performers
In an update to the above, I should point out how badly I misjudged the abilities of some of the equine participants of that day. Both Salden Licht and Sarando in particular have gone on to prove themselves as accomplished performers throughout the jumping season, and I am proud to have witnessed one of their earliest encounters at Plumpton. No doubt I will continue to witness some stars in the making at the track, I certainly hope so!