Musselburgh celebrates best ever Flat season

Racegoers enjoy Ladies Day at Musselburgh in June. Picture: Neil Hanna
Racegoers enjoy Ladies Day at Musselburgh in June. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Larger crowds and bigger prize money have made Musselburgh’s 2014 Flat season their most successful to date.

Over 17 meetings from April to October at the popular East Lothian track, attendances were up by 14 per cent from 44,962 to 51,358, while prize money rose by £121,000 from £1.07 million to £1.2 million, averaging £70,000 at each meeting.

Highlights included Musselburgh’s first ever £100,000 race, the William Hill Scottish Sprint Cup, and the sponsors have reinforced the value of Scotland’s richest sprint event with a further three-year deal.

The Stobo Castle Ladies Day celebrated its tenth anniversary and sold out in record time with all tickets gone three months ahead of the June meeting, which attracted a modern day record attendance of 9,000.

Earlier the Flat season had kicked off with Musselburgh making British sporting history by staging the first turf meeting to be held on Good Friday, which together with the well-established Easter Sunday fixture pulled in almost 8,000 fans. The Edinburgh Cup meeting in June had a record £143,000 in prize money and a 6200 crowd built on this meeting’s growing popularity as a key summer race day on the Scottish calendar.

With Referendum polling fever at its height in September, Musselburgh again took the initiative and with sponsor Ladbrokes staging a one-off charity race, the Ladbrokes Referendum Race. Yes We Can in the Yes campaign colours pipped Better Together’s Neigh Thanks and £800 was raised for local charity Cash for Kids.

Musselburgh general manager, Bill Farnsworth, said: “We try hard to keep things fresh and to innovate. With both increased attendances and prize money, we have had a successful Flat campaign and are focused on replicating that when the jumps season gets underway.”

Musselburgh’s National Hunt season begins on Thursday, 6 November. At Fontwell yesterday Deputy Dan was surprisingly beaten by Virak on his chasing debut. Facing just two rivals for the Piglet’s Pantry Food Lovers Beginners’ Chase, the Oliver Sherwood-trained six-year-old was sent off the 8-13 favourite. But the Paul Nicholls-trained Virak was rated 2lb higher than Deputy Dan over hurdles and made every yard of the running under Sam Twiston-Davies.

Sherwood’s inmate loomed up to challenge for Leighton Aspell at the last, but Virak pulled out more to win by four and a half lengths.

Both horses look nice prospects for the future and while he may have met with defeat, Sherwood will take heart from the way Deputy Dan jumped.

Meanwhile, Magician is set to lead Aidan O’Brien’s assault on the Breeders’ Cup as he bids to win the Turf two years running.

Ryan Moore was in the saddle when Magician defeated The Fugue at Santa Anita last year but O’Brien’s son, Joseph, is set to be in the plate on Saturday week.

Connections have had this race in mind for Magician following his second place behind Hardest Core in the Arlington Million in August.

“He’s in good form. He ran well in Arlington and after that we decided to keep him for this. It’s so far so good,” said O’Brien.

Magician could be joined in the Turf by Chicquita, who threw away her chance of winning the Qipco British Champions Fillies & Mares at Ascot on Saturday when veering to the left and ended up finishing third to Madame Chiang.

O’Brien is represented in three of the races for two-year-olds, with Qualify going for the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf, The Great War for the Juvenile and War Envoy in the Juvenile Turf.