Sun shines on biggest race day of year... and traders speak of optimism for 2012

it was third time lucky for Wetherby races after this year’s good weather saw the traditional two-day Welcome to Yorkshire Christmas Meeting on Boxing Day Monday and Bank Holiday Tuesday take place for the first time in three years.

More than 11,000 people turned up to watch the Boxing Day races as crowds gathered to watch some of the countries top horses compete in unseasonably warm weather.

The event, one of the racecourse’s biggest in its calendar, had been cancelled in 2009 and 2010 due to severe bad weather, but this year expectations were high after a bout of mild weather and £109,000 worth of prize money up for grabs.

Chief executive of Wetherby racecourse, Jonjo Sanderson, said this year’s two-day programme had been a “huge success”.

He said: “It was an excellent two days and we are extremely pleased that this year we were finally able to hold this much-loved traditional event.

“The last two years have been frustrating as all the preparation has gone into this event, but unfortunately it has had to be cancelled due to the bad weather.

“This year, we were delighted.

“The two days themselves both had very good crowds and a brilliant atmosphere. The weather couldn’t have been better.”

Commenting on the racing, Mr Sanderson said: “The standard was extremely high. A lot of the finishing was extremely close this year, which made it all the more exciting and very competitive.

“We also had a number of female jockies win this year, which was unusual, but very good.”

The Boxing Day highlight of the six race programme, the £40,000 Betfair Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase, was won by According to Pete. His trainer, Malcolm Jefferson won for the first time in three years at the Grade Three contest for stayers over three miles.

The main race of Bank Holiday Tuesday’s programme was the £16,000 Castleford Handicap Chase, a contest for chasers over the specialist distance of two miles, won by Charingworth, owner Ferdy Murphy and jockey Lucy Alexander.

Musical entertainment during the meeting was provided by LA Jazz’ and the Endeavour Ceilidh Band, while Musical Ruth – the singing nun – gave a rendition on Boxing Day.

The team from Rigmoor Reindeer also brought a couple of their animals to add to the attractions on Boxing Day, which also included an array of trade stands as well as a traditional serving of mince pies and mulled wine for guests as they watched the racing.

Meanwhile shop traders across the Wetherby district say they are going into the New Year with “optimism” despite the economic downturn.

As 2011 draws to an end, traders in Wetherby, Tadcaster and Boston Spa have weathered the difficult climate during the Christmas period and over the last 12 months.

In June this year, the Wetherby News reported that there were 17 empty shops in the town with shopkeepers and traders fearing that the affluent trading centre - famous for its wealth of independent

and community-minded shops - would not survive a combination of high rents from landlords and a global recession.

Now, just a few months on, and after brisk Christmas trade- the picture is very different as several new shops and businesses have opened their doors.

Nish Kanabar, owner of Castlegate Toys, Castlegate Post Office and Castlegate Stationery, said despite the recession, the town centre can look forward to an “optimistic” 2012.

“For us this year, shop trade over Christmas has been fantastic, we have put in a lot of work however and have done a lot of things to make the effort in our shops to keep it that way.”

“I think overall the Christmas trade has been mixed in the town, with some shops doing well and others doing not so well over the Christmas shopping period.”

“In terms of Wetherby we do seem to be bucking the nationwide trend here. Landlords also seem to be negotiating better deals for rent which have seen more shops come into the town, so it is an optimistic time.”

l Wetherby Racecourse will hold its next fixture on Saturday January 14. To book tickets go to