Musselburgh Racecourse kicks off the Scottish Flat season today and creates history as the first UK course to stage turf racing on Good Friday.
The track’s 17-fixture season features prize money of £1,170,000 – an increase of £100,000 on the previous season – and Good Friday has a bumper prize pool of £156,000.
The Grade 2 feature race, the £50,000 Totepool Royal Mile Handicap Stakes (3.50), for three year olds only, has attracted a strong field.
Mark Johnston, whose three year olds have started the season in fine form and Musley Bank’s Richard Fahey go head to head for the valuable prize.
Neither of Fahey’s two runners, Roachdale House and Ventura Quest, have raced this Spring so the fitness advantage would seem to lie with the Johnston pair of Almargo, the mount of Silvestre de Sousa, and Bow Creek who will be partnered by Franny Norton, happily back in action after a six month lay-off through injury.
Bow Creek made all the running to land a three-horse listed race at Lingfield earlier this month but Almargo has demonstrated real potential by rattling up an impressive three timer on the all-weather and will be preferred.
In the £25,000 totepool.com Borderlescott Sprint Trophy (2.40) the Robin Bastiman trained Borderlescott has carried the colours of owners James Edgar and William Donaldson to multiple Group wins in his long and distinguished career.
A dual winner of York’s Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes, Borderlescott has also won the Stewards Cup at Goodwood and is a course and distance winner at Musselburgh. The veteran, who turned 12 in January, is set to run in his own race and will be ridden by Neill Farley.
Bastiman reports that Borderlescott is in great spirits but, at his advanced age, it is hard to see him coping with the speed of either William Haggas’ classy top-weight Heeraat, or last season’s course and distance winner Kingsgate Choice. Herefordshire trainer Ed de Giles has a profitable strike rate at Musselburgh and Kingsgate Choice ran a promising sixth in a listed race at Linfield on his seasonal reappearance late last month.
The East Lothian course was buoyed last week with the news that its 10th anniversary Stobo Castle Ladies Day on 14 June has sold out in record time, a full nine weeks ahead of the event.
During the close season the racecourse management have invested £250,000 in facility upgrades, which includes a refurbishment of the popular Pinkies Bar, a new landscaped raised viewing area in front of the grandstand and improved access roads. Other changes which will enhance the visitor experience include improved signage and a new “fast track” entrance which will minimise queuing for race goers who book in advance.
Musselburgh Racecourse general manager, Bill Farnsworth, said: “We are starting the Flat season on a high with Stobo Castle Ladies Day already sold out and a 9,000 record attendance guaranteed.
“We are also creating a historic first by staging the first turf racing on a Good Friday and we expect a healthy crowd which we can build on over the next 2-3 years in the same way we have done with our Easter Sunday meeting.
“It’s a new fixture and like anything which is new it will take time to establish its credentials, but we believe we have the makings of an excellent Easter Racing Festival with two days of quality and family racing.
“Record prize money over the season will continue to attract the leading trainers and jockeys but equally important is the significant investment we are making in improving the facilities at Musselburgh. We are focussed on maintaining our five-star visitor status and reputation as one of the UK’s most forward thinking racecourses.”
Flat season highlights at Musselburgh include the £60,000 Edinburgh Cup on Saturday, 7 June and Musselburgh’s first-ever £100,000 race, the William Hill Scottish Sprint Cup, which is the feature race at Stobo Castle Ladies Day a week later and also features a special after-racing party hosted by Radio One presenter Scott Mills.
Bill Farnsworth added: “With Ladies Day sold out we believe those disappointed at not getting a ticket will turn their attention to the Edinburgh Cup meeting and we would advise people to book early to avoid a second disappointment.”
• The five furlong totetrifecta handicap race has been divided so there are now eight races with the first race off at 2.10pm and the last at 6pm. Musselburgh is back racing on Easter Sunday with its traditional Easter Sunday Family Day.
To find out more about the two-day Totepool Easter Festival and details of all Musselburgh’s fixtures visit www.musselburgh-racecourse.co.uk