New Year’s Day racing returns to Fakenham

The sound of hooves thundering along the race track at Fakenham made a welcome return to the New Year's Day diary on Saturday – much to the delight of the course's owners and the town's traders.

The meet attracted thousands of people from across the country hoping the fresh air would blow away any ill-effects of the night before – and that maybe they would win a pound or two on the horses.

It was a relief for Fakenham Racecourse's clerk and chief executive David Hunter who last year was forced to call it off at the 11th hour because of a sharp frost.

A meet on December 12 this year also had to be cancelled for safety reasons and there were fears the weekend's seven races could fall victim to the weather yet again.

Mr Hunter said: 'I was up here Boxing Day and we were still frozen up. But the forecast has gone right. I'm very pleased.'

The event, which attracted about 6,000 spectators when it first took place in 2008, is an important one for the racecourse which hopes to draw newcomers in with the Bank Holiday fixture – the only one in East Anglia.

'Hopefully they will come today and then come on other days,' said Mr Hunter. 'It is not as big as our Easter Monday meet, but there is no reason we can't get this to that number once it gets established in people's minds.'

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As chairman of the North Norfolk Business Forum's tourism Round Table, the course clerk was also mindful of the impact the racing had on Fakenham and the wider district.

He said: 'Every time we put a race meeting on, there will be people in the town's hotels, pubs and other places. One of the local hotels puts on a special race breakfast.

'It's beneficial to the town. People will be staying locally and people who have come up for the New Year or Christmas would have stayed on for an extra day for the racing. It's another interesting, quirky thing for visitors to do.'

As racing enthusiasts carefully studied form, families who find the event equally appealing wandered around the stands, trying the local produce on sale, and placing bets according to who had the best name.

Striding towards the parade ring, one father told his children: 'Let's look for the pretty ones – it's all we can do, really.'

Race report and pictures – page 26.