As I’m sure you are all aware – I love the races! In fact, as I write today’s feature article I am listening to the commentary from Epsom Downs and cursing as my selections fail to win me much money!
Sunday saw the return of the Perth Gold Cup and what a day it was! Despite the forecast looking a bit dodgy, the sun was out for most of the afternoon and the punters had a fantastic day! There was a whopping 30% increase in the prize-money and that brings attracted of the UK and Ireland’s finest horses, trainers and jockeys to Scone.
It was the second Gold Cup at the helm for Hazel Peplinski – Chief Executive of Perth Racecourse – who has recently celebrated her first year in the role since replacing Sam Morshead. A lot has changed since Hazel arrived in Perth and her racing background has proved to be instrumental in improving the track surface, much to the delight of trainers and jockeys up and down the country.
It wasn’t an easy start for Hazel following the death of former chairman and friend, David Whitaker and soon after, her father and former amateur trainer, John Dudgeon. However, despite some early challenges she is delighted with how her first year has gone at Perth.
“Looking back I’d have to say the first year was a baptism of fire! There were a lot of challenges and as I joined in the January, most of the planning for the year ahead had already been put in place before I got started.
“I suppose one of the main challenges was to get the hotel finished. When I arrived it was barely out of the ground but it was supposed to have been completed! There were a number of reasons for the delay but getting that open to the public and to the stable staff, for whom it was purposely built, was the big one for me.
“I had big shoes to fill in Sam Morshead! He did a tremendous amount in his twenty years at the helm and he had the foresight and confidence to go for the new stable block and hotel. When he called me and invited me to take over from him it came as a big surprise – but honestly, there was no other racecourse I would have left Hamilton Park for and I was delighted to be getting back to jump racing which is where my family background is.
“My Dad getting ill and sadly passing away and David dying too just made me even more determined to make sure I made a success of it and I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made so far!”
One of the main priorities for Hazel has been to attract the best of British and Irish racing to Perth. She decided that to do so, she’d need to go back to her racing roots to figure out what was needed to become an attractive racecourse for the elite yards.
She trained as a clerk of the course during her time as Chief Executive at Hamilton Park, before becoming the clerk part-time after getting married and having kids. It’s a crucial role and one which allowed Hazel to quickly realise the track surface at Perth wasn’t up to the required standard and that significant spending was needed.
“The new irrigation system is absolutely key and I think it’s been the most important thing that I’ve implemented since I started here. I have to thank and congratulate the committee for going ahead and funding the improvements and we’re already seeing a quick reaction from the horsemen!
“They need to have confidence in the surface or they simply won’t race. Before we got the new system, we weren’t really giving our groundsmen the chance to make the surface the best it could be. £250,000 was a big investment but it won’t be long before we reap the rewards from it and we’ve had excellent feedback on the going at Perth since the new system was put in place.
“I think that’s why we saw a yard like Jonjo O’Neill’s come up to Perth for the Gold Cup on Sunday. That’s the kind of calibre we want to be attracting and I think the irrigation system plays a big part in that.”
One of the main attractions seems to be the increase in prize-money – which was increased by 30% this year and made the Perth Gold Cup one of the richest prizes in the country’s summer jumps calendar. However, Hazel believes that it’s not just the money that is attracting such a high calibre of horsemen to head north to Perth.
“I think it’s a combination of factors to be honest. Of course it’s nice to have a good amount of prize money available, but I don’t think that is necessarily what makes trainers and jockeys come to Perth.
“We actually punch well above our weight for the size of racecourse we are, and I think that’s a testament to the ground staff and everybody working here. Without meaning to repeat myself too, the irrigation system is huge as well because if the surface is good and it’s safe, then trainers and jockeys will want to race. So I think it’s a combination of factors.
“The crowd also play a huge part too. Of all of the race courses I’ve worked at and been to, I genuinely believe the Perth crowd are one of the best because they just love racing! Other racecourses tend to be geared a bit more towards the social side, and if there’s bad weather then they just won’t come. However in Perth, the crowds turn out rain or shine and that really gives you confidence as a race day promoter.
“We can’t wait to welcome another fantastic crowd on Sunday and I am delighted that the big Perthshire crowd will get to see such high quality racing!”
The next event on the calendar is a double-header on the 5th and 6th of July, and if the Gold Cup is anything to go by it will be an action-packed few days of quality horse racing! I can't wait already!
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