A new season of horse racing will explode out of the starting stalls at Great Yarmouth this spring.
But months of preparation work are going into the getting the venue ready for the off.
The track’s grass has been nurtured, paintwork freshened, special events organised and detailed safety planning put into place.
It is unseen, unsung, behind-the-scenes work that enables 60,000 racing fans to enjoy 24 days of sport, hospitality and entertainment.
The course is famous for its seaside track with a mile-long straight – which was re-laid three years ago after the 100-year-old surface showed signs of breaking up.
Head groundsman Richard Bradley: “We are on well-drained sandy land but we are at the mercy of the elements – and not just rain. At our seaside location winds can also dry out the track which means we have to irrigate.
“At the end of the season we add fertiliser, de-compact it, and cut the grass from 4 to 2 inches, then leave it alone as long as we can over winter. Pre-season we slit it with a bladed roller to 9in depth, fertilise using seaweed and iron, and keep it cut to 3.5-4inch (90mm).”
Close season work also includes emptying and pressure-washing 127 stables, painting (picnic benches to corporate suites), mending paving and preparing the lawns, flower beds, car parks.
The core full time staff of 17, including just five ground workers, swells to 100-plus on race days to include gate, bar and catering positions.
Course executive director Glenn Tubby said catering for a wide range of racegoers meant being able to provide everything from “pies and pizzas on the fast food lawn to corporate dining with champagne for 200+ people in a marquee.”
Autumn and winter work include financial planning, marketing, and booking entertainment. As well as a full 24-day race programme, the venue also has to prepare for other events it hosts including weddings and live music.
Pre-season work for clerk of the course Richard Aldous starts a year in advance and includes fixing race dates via a national computerised database and organising prize money.
“Trainers look for races that suit their horses and we are traditionally a nursery track for two year olds with 75pc of them coming from the yards at Newmarket.”
Updates on the condition of the track “going” are posted in the days leading up to the race, and updated with weather forecasts, to help trainers make their decisions on where to race.
On race days staff are out early at 6am to check the going which can change within hours. The stable staff will have been up even earlier preparing the horses.
Mr Aldous, whose equestrian career has included training and stud work spells in South Africa the United States, Australia and Ireland, said: “We are in the leisure industry and the course must be in tip-top condition.”
“My role is partly in the office, sometimes sitting on a tractor – but I love dealing with people, and making sure everything runs smoothly.”
“I was standing at the parade ring gate one year and a man said ‘it must be really hard work to get this ready the day before the meeting.’ People don’t realise the months of work that go into it.”
Great Yarmouth racecourse is one of 16 courses run by Arena Racing Company. This season it will host a full 24-race season opening on Tuesday April 25 and running through to Tuesday October 24. For more information visit www.greatyarmouth-racecourse.co.uk or call 01493 842527. There are behind the scenes tours, including to the weighing room, to learn more about what happens out of the public gaze during a race day.
Great Yarmouth Racing In Numbers in a typical season:
Visitors: 60,000 racegoers, 40,000 attending other events (53pc live more than 50 miles away).
Racing stats: £1.06m prize money for the season, 168 races, 1,344 runners, 173 trainers, 620 owners.
Catering: 65,000 pints, 30,000 soft drinks, 4,500 bottles of wine and champagne, 4,000 hospitality and restaurant meals.
Track: oval 1 mile 5 furlong track, 8.5 tonnes of fertilizer, 1.5 tonnes of grass seed, 1,000 bales of stable bedding.