Pontefract racecourse is one of the best kept secrets in British racing. For a long time I’ve been wanting Pontefract to move one of their meetings to a Saturday, and get terrestrial coverage, but the more I think about it, I’d rather they didn’t. If they did, the cat would be out of the bag so to speak, and this little gem of a racecourse would be well known to the wider public.
Pontefract has everything, from the charm and character of the old stands, to top quality action on the track. Some of their midweek meetings have better races than some that we see on ITV in a prime time Saturday spot. Prize money is some of the best I’ve seen, there isn’t another “small track” I’ve seen that offers the same amount of prize money for their class 2/3/4 handicaps. It is no surprise that many of the big Newmarket trainers bring their horses up to run on a regular basis, and long may that continue.
The quality of the action on the track, along with the fantastic character the place has when you walk in makes this racecourse a very special place.
Your horse needs to stay. The only part of the course that is downhill is from the winning post down to the pond, the part of the track that is only used over long distances. The rest is undulating and uphill, if your horse doesn’t truly stay the distance it will get found out.
The track favours front runners. It is no surprise to see Mark Johnston do well at Pontefract, his jockeys know the track well and it suits his front running style. The turn into the home straight is around two furlongs from home. The turn is quite sharp, and room can be at a premium, which often means horses in behind have to come wide and lose valuable ground. Being out in front and taking the bend well, without unbalancing the horse can give front runners a real advantage.
The track is hard on newcomers. This is especially true of two year olds, and while they do win, a green horse will always struggle at Pontefract. Being settled and getting a good position is crucial in sprint races at Pontefract due to the undulations between the three and five furlong poles. Green horses can struggle with this early in a race, and often you will find newcomers really struggling to get into a rhythm, putting them at a huge disadvantage. If a horse wins at Pontefract over a sprint distance on debut they are either very well prepared for their debut, or above average in terms of ability.
Races Of Note on the Calendar
The High Rise Maiden
This race takes place on the first meeting of the season at Pontefract in April. It usually attracts a few high quality entries, being a very valuable early season three year old maiden. It usually takes a good one to win the race, and the form is often worth following.
The Pontefract Marathon
The longest flat handicap in Britain, ran on the longest continous racecourse in Europe, what more is there to say? It takes a tough stayer to win this one, and the race often attracts some dual purpose horses who try and use their stamina against the flat horses.
The Silver Tankard Stakes
The final listed race of the season at Pontefract is often the most interesting. This 1m race for two year olds usually sees a nice winner, and one that is worth following as a three year old.