I started at Newbury in October 1979 as Estate Manager. I have been Clerk of the Course for ten years and this was my 32nd Hennessy.
Sunday 21st November
For a weekend race meeting my preparation starts on the Sunday before. Racing people work on Sundays, and racecourses are no exception. I met up with Steve Robinson (Robbo), my Head Groundsman, at 8.00am. I rang the Met Office for an up-to-date forecast and then we discuss the weather predictions together for the following week and make plans accordingly. Jockey, Andrew Thornton, puts his head round the door on his way to Towcester, so he came on to the course with us and looked at several jumps which we have changed this year - all okay.
At 9.00am myself, Robbo and Bailey (my five year old Springer spaniel) go out and inspect the whole of the national hunt course. The grass growth is thick and, as it is our first national hunt meeting of the season, we know that the odd light frost will not cause us any problems. My groundstaff team are out finishing off areas of running rail ready for racing.
10.30am - Put the official going onto the BHA remote website to keep the industry up-to-date with the latest conditions. Good to soft on the chase and good to soft, soft in places, on the hurdle.
I then check the Met Office forecast again. It looks like the minimum temperatures will drop very low leading up to the weekend. I have never covered the course for this meeting before, not even take off and landings, so we had to prepare quickly. Robbo and I arrange for Sterling Services to send in staff on Monday morning to start filling sand bags, which are used to keep the fleece covers in place. I contact my Managing Director, Stephen Higgins, to keep him updated, and he supports our plans. I check emails before returning home at 11.00am - luckily I live on site!
In the afternoon my wife, Drusilla, and I go to the Berkshire Young Farmers AGM in Bradfield Village Hall where I give a report as a Club Efficiency Judge.
Back home at 6.00pm and I have an early night ready for a long week.
Monday 22nd November
Alarm at 6.15am, and up and out of the house at 6.45am to meet Robbo in the office at 7.00am. Phone the Met Office again for a report, and then Robbo and I plan on the best way to cover the course. We look into using Sports and Stadia Services for the frost covers, but Nigel Felton said that he is too committed, especially as we wanted to protect the course for three days, covering up and removing for racing each day.
8.30am - contacted Guy Roberts who supplies our fleeces. Guy and I brainstorm over the phone as to the forecast for the next week and then he arranges for extra fleece to be delivered.
9.00am - Robbo and I arrange for the take off and landings of each jump to be covered, so as to keep as much temperature in those areas which suffer and become very worn during the season. I then met up with Michael Dale, of Doncaster Bloodstock Sales, to check on arrangements for their Breeze-Up Sale being held at Newbury at the end of the week.
I speak to Chris Stickels at Ascot and he offers me their frost covers as well, which is a great help. I arrange for a lorry to pick them up on Tuesday morning.
We make the decision to cover the whole of the course, and to start on Tuesday morning after the frost has lifted. We then met with Abbe from Sterling Services, who is arranging for fifty men to help lay the covers. The sandbags we used last year, as weights to hold the covers down, were not in good condition, so we cleared the Newbury area out of empty sandbags and Sterling Services started to fill them!
Robbo and I had waited until the frost had lifted from the course before walking so, at 11.30am, we went round to inspect the course.
At 1.00pm, I arranged for one of my groundstaff to pick us up from London following a press reception at Moet Hennessy in London at 6.00pm. I then catch a train at 3.30pm with Caroline Fleming (Sponsorship) and Nicky Hares (Marketing) to meet up with Stephen Higgins, Kate Walthew, Harriet Rochester (Marketing) and Sam Pedder (Hospitality) who were already in London.
6.00pm - we meet the press, trainers and members of Moet Hennessy team, Leanne and Clare, to announce entries for the big race. Nick Luck interviewed us all, so I updated the room with the expected weather and the precautions we will put in place. I also did interviews with the Racing Post television and others. At the end of the night, Leanne showed me the exclusive Hennessy products - including XO, Paradis and Richard - she promised me a glass for Saturday night - something to look forward to!
At 8.30pm, Siekela Ladislav (Siki), one of my groundstaff, was waiting outside to take us back to Newbury. Back home for 9.45pm and straight to bed!
Tuesday 23rd November
Alarm at 5.30am the up and out of the house before 6.00am, rang my friends at the Met Office, then meet Robbo to plan.
At 9.00am had a call from the hire company to say that twelve temporary sets of lights for the car park areas were on site, so Robbo went to sign for them and to get instructions on how they work!
9.30am - had a further meeting on site with Michael from DBS to discuss their Breeze-Up Sale.
At 10.30am, my groundstaff team started to put down our old fleece covers along the back straight with the help of Sterling Services. Ascot's covers arrive at 11.00am and we put these on the far end of the course.
Robbo stays out with the team, covering up, and I check the course with Nick Gaselee, a retired trainer who is a great help to me. I then update the BHA website. The course is still in great condition and the covers are all down by the end of the day.
At 5.00pm, Robbo and I have to position one of the temporary lights for DBS, as we have erected a temporary stable block in a car park behind our stables. The generator is also put in place.
Alarm at 5.20am and up and out by 6.00am to ring the Met Office for an updated forecast - there are still frosts around, but also a chance of snow (up to 1-3cm) on Thursday and Saturday!
Robbo and I checked the course with Bailey at 7.00am. I then go back to the office to phone the trainers with runners to update them on the going, and also discuss temperature and weather conditions. According to our on site weather station, the lowest temperature was recorded at 8.30am, at just below freezing.
Declarations are on the BHA website at 10.00am, so I begin my preparation for racing on Thursday - timings for horses into the paddock, jockeys into the paddock, horses leaving the paddock etc., to get to them to the start on time.
2.00pm - check the course again during the afternoon - by now the course is completely tucked up in its fleece! I rang the Met Office again; the main worry is still frost, but with a 30% risk of snow showers. I update the BHA remote going website as well.
I finish my timetables and final raceday preparations before checking the stables on the way home. Home by 7.00pm.
Alarm goes at 5.20am and up and out of the house by 6.40am. I check an outside thermometer, it's minus 1.5OC, on the way to the office. Rang the Met Office for an update.
Meet up with Stephen, Robbo, Ellie and Richie for the course walk. As we go round, the Sterling Services team are lifting the sand bags and putting them near the rails ready to go back down after racing. There is no frost in the ground, but we have kept the soil temperatures warmer. I update the RCA going line, which goes out to Talk Sport for the early show.
On returning, I do an interview with Maggie Philbin for Radio Berkshire, answering questions on the twenty-four acres of fleece.
8.00am - I update the BHA web site with the latest going and forecast. I also check the latest temperatures, we hit the lowest at 8.30am - minus 1.8OC, a dawn frost. Within ten minutes the temperatures start to rise, so we start to remove the covers, leaving the back straight until last, as that is always the coldest area of the course.
9.00am - I am back on the phones. The runners for the big Hennessy are declaring before 10.00am. I am kept updated, by radio, of the progress of the practice Breeze-Up session we are holding. All go well, except some small teething problem at the start.
10.00am - Cherry Jones (Chair of Stewards for the day) and Peter Hobbs (BHA Course Inspector) turn up to check the course with me. The covers are coming off slowly, with the home straight finished. The team are tiring a bit on the back straight, despite the extra help of Stephen. When we reach the cross fence, Peter and I leave Cherry to finish the course walk, whilst we stay behind and help to move the covers ready for racing.
I continue on round the course and Peter checks the back straight on the way back in. Course all clear and fit for racing.
11.30am - Quick change into a suit ready for racing.
12.00 noon - Stewards briefing on the races for the day.
12.30pm - First race.
During the afternoon I regularly checked the course condition with the jockeys and trainers. The racing went well, except we had one fatality; I always hate losing horses, a low part of the day. For the last race the hurdles had to be removed for a National hunt flat race.
4.00pm - Quick change and then all hands on deck to re-cover the course, including the Managing Director, Stephen Higgins, going back to his grassroots (sorry about the pun).
We increased the casual labour to help us - over seventy people now on the job. This time we only covered the running lines. New rolls of fleece arrive, so that we can put down fresh covers for Friday night.
7.15pm - all down and ready for Friday; time for a cup of tea and a quick planning meeting. Updated runners and timetables. I check in with the stables on the way home to see if there are any problems. Arrive home at 8.15pm; time for a Radox bath before supper and bed. One down two to go.
Friday 26th November
5.15am - the alarm goes off, and I'm out and down to my office by 5.45am. Minimum temperature is minus 2.5OC. I ring the Met Office for the latest forecast. It's going to be a much 'warmer' day than Thursday, due to light winds. Maximum due to go to +4OC but temperatures due to drop to minus 3-4OC overnight.
Everyone is on time, so off we go around the course at 6.15am. The sandbags are being moved by Sterling Services to save time. Guy Roberts is also on site, two more areas have frost damage. I updated the RCA going line on the way round.
At dawn, the temperature drops down to minus 2.9OC, but soon rises quickly.
The race is on to lift the covers. I talk to trainers and advise them with the going and forecast - still a worry of snow. By 9.30am the temperatures are above zero and still rising.
I meet Lord Rathcreedan (Chair of Stewards for the day) and we check the course together - no problems! On the way round, I am informed that the Fighting Fifth (a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race) will be coming to Newbury because Newcastle has had to abandon due to snow. It will be the second race on the card.
The Breeze-Up Sale on the flat course was well under way by the time we walked the course, and we met up with several trainers as we reached the winning post - they are all happy.
Reg Lomas, one of our groundstaff, supervised the repairs, so that the courses are ready for racing. Due to the timescale, we were not able to move rail and give fresh lines. Meanwhile, my groundsmen put the hurdles back in for racing.
11.15am - Changed quickly ready for racing.
11.45am - Stewards briefing
12.15pm - first race of six, which is unusual for us - it's normally seven or more.
Racing went well but the low point was when we lost another horse due to its injuries.
Noel Fehily and Richie McLernon both had bad falls.
Paul Barber, owner of Denman, and also renowned for his weather forecasts, assures me that my only problem will be the frost overnight, the snow will miss us.
3.30pm - Changed quickly and then out on the evening job. We used new rolls of fleece, so we were able to lay it much quicker and finished by 5.45pm. This also included moving bends and wings of the jumps and hurdles.
DBS had a parade of their sales horses, and this was carried out with no problems.
Finished my timetable and prepared for racing before checking with the stables and going home for an early night at 7.15pm.
Saturday 27th November
Awake by 4.30am, so got up to look out of the window. No snow overnight!
Out of the house and into the office, checking the temperature on the way - minus 2OC.
6.00am - checked the forecast from the Met Office. There is a chance of snow flurries, but nothing heavy. The maximum temperatures would be +1 or 2OC (cold!).
Stephen, Robbo, Richie and I go round the course - still no frost in the ground, especially under the covers on the warn areas. Spoke to RCA going line on the way round and updated them for Talk Sport. The sandbags are being taken off as we go round the course.
7.00am - back into the office - the temperature is starting to dip with dawn approaching - down to minus 2.38OC. Within fifteen minutes, the temperature is on the rise - that is good news, but it is cloudy!
7.50am - I meet up with John Francome to do a live piece at the start for the Channel 4's Morning Line. All goes well and I show John the ground under the covers.
8.15am - I receive a call from Guy Roberts to say that it is snowing, I make the decision to start removing the covers despite the temperature still being below zero - but it is rising.
9.00am - I go and do an interview with Henry Kelly of BBC Radio Berkshire.
9.30am - As it is a big day, Peter Hobbs is on hand and, with him, Anthony Webber (Chair of the Stewards for the day). I show them the fresh ground we have opened up with the movement of the rails. As we go down the back straight, the new lines of the hurdles can be seen, three fresh on the inside. We have also moved the inside wing of the jumps in, to allow the full width for jumping.
The damage on the outside from the first two days was severe, but the team of treaders and divoters were on their way round. When we saw where it had been repaired, I was very impressed at the finished surface.
11.00am - checked the temperature - just above zero at last! All set for racing. Changed quickly before doing a piece on Racing UK with Lydia Hislop, explaining rail movements and the up-to-date going.
11.30am - Joined in the Stewards briefing.
11.45am - Checked with Robbo who tells me that everything was okay on the course. The first racehorses are in the ring. Despite the early start, there are a lot of people around. The afternoon goes very well and the Fighting Fifth is an exciting race
I am approached by many people, while I am in the parade ring, all thanking me and my team for a great day's racing and the efforts we have put in to keeping it on.
2.50pm - the horses are in the ring for the Hennessy. The jockeys come in and, after a couple of minutes, I ring the bell for them to mount.
I walk out with the horses to the course to prepare for the parade. Robbo takes 11 to 19 and I take 1 to 10. The horses are sorted within a couple of minutes, so Phil Williams can lead them with the Huntsman for the parade.
I go to the stewards side-on viewing box, high up in the Berkshire stand, to watch the race. And what a race, just outside the record.
I arrange for Denman and Diamond Harry to parade before leaving the parade ring on their way back to the stables.
3.25pm - the last race of a very long meeting. Eight races on the day and twenty-one for the meeting.
At the end of the race, I radioed to all my staff to thank them for all their help over the last week.
After the race I can, at last, start to relax. I check the arrangements for DBS and then I am invited by Caroline to go up to the Royal Box - Hennessy's Room.
4.15pm - In the Royal Box I meet up with Leanne from Hennessy, who gives me the promised glass of Richard. Now that is a way of signing of a Winter Festival Weekend, with pure satisfaction.