Thumbs up from punters at race meet

THE much-maligned Millennium Grandstand has been hailed a success by punters as the start of the Newmarket flat racing season got underway.Racing fans flocked to the Rowley Mile racecourse for the start of prestigious three day Craven meeting and were greeted with the new £3.

THE much-maligned Millennium Grandstand has been hailed a success by punters as the start of the Newmarket flat racing season got underway.

Racing fans flocked to the Rowley Mile racecourse for the start of prestigious three day Craven meeting and were greeted with the new £3.5 million revamped stand.

Amid the controversy of the development and the outbreak of equine fever, Lisa Hancock, managing director at Newmarket racecourse, said it was nice to concentrate on racing, which had almost taken a back seat in recent weeks.

She added: "It is great to get going. It has been a superb start to the season and the glorious weather always makes it easier.


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"People seem very pleased with the grandstand and the feedback to date has been entirely positive."

Ms Hancock said she was never concerned the meeting would have to be cancelled – making reference to initial reports after the first cases of the equine fever which has now hit 18 training yards after three more cases were confirmed yesterday .

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The attention for most racegoers turned to the seven races on the opening day, the plum race being the The Shadwell Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes with a total prize fund of £50,000.

But while enjoying the runners and riders on one of the hottest days of the year, many people took time out to praise the changes and the decision to open up parts of the stand first designated to the Jockey Club to all members.

Racing fan and former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Police, Ben Gunn, said: "I am a supporter of Newmarket racecourse and I think the changes are excellent.

"The idea of the Millennium Stand was okay but as it turned out in practice it clearly wasn't an economically viable proposition."

David McNeil, of Fornham St Martin, said: "I have no qualms about the changes now but they are long overdue.

"Myself and my wife Elizabeth have been annual members for a long time and we were very disappointed when we were excluded from it initially. This is what should have happened in the first place and the facilities themselves are excellent."

The stand was opened by the Queen in 2000 but the £20 million facility failed to find favour with many racegoers, many of whom stayed away saying their expectations and needs had not been met.

Racecourse chiefs hope criticism over inadequate lifts and poor crowd circulation in the stand had been answered with the installation of two escalators.

Edward Randall, owner of horse Bahlino - which ran in the fourth race, said: "It is always nice to come racing in Newmarket and particularly when the sun shines, it's wonderful. Though my stables stayed clear of the flu, there was a lot of concern about equine fever."

As usual, the meeting attracted well-known faces with racing celebrity John McCririck among the hundreds of punters.

Taking a break from their last-ditch push for the play-offs were Norwich City footballers Mark Rivers and Adam Drury.

Adam said: "We like to come down when we get the chance. It is a nice way of winding down and relaxing."

As for whether the Canaries were still worth a flutter in their bid for promotion, Mark coolly answered: "The season is not over yet and I think our chances are still very high of reaching the Premiership next season."

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