Newton Abbot Racecourse boss Pat Masterson: My three decades at racing venue
- Credit: Archant
Tuesday, June 2, 2020 marked my 30th anniversary at Newton Abbot Racecourse. After leaving the army, I moved to the West Country with my future wife Vivienne. We were married on August 11, just over two months later.
My first role was as the general manager and in those days, we raced between January and May followed by a short break and resumed from August to December.
This included our biggest fixture of the year on Boxing Day. This meeting was the highlight of the year with up to 13,000 paying people.
In my first year in post, we built the Teign Suite, a hospitality building overlooking the track. This cost £600,000 to build which was a huge sum of money 30 years ago.
It has proven to be a great investment for the course and will enhance income for years to come.
Apart from racing, the only other income was from stock car racing and car boot sales.
The new hospitality suite attracted conference bookings, private box hospitality overlooking the course on racedays and other events such as sportsman dinners.
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Over the next four to five years we realised the hospitality suite needed enlarging so in 1996 we built an extension. There were many alterations to the business during these years.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to race virtually 12 months of the year. Boxing Day, our biggest revenue earner, had been lost for six consecutive years due to adverse weather. It was time to re-evaluate our racing fixtures.
I managed to sell our Boxing Day fixture to Towcester Racecourse for £450,000 - a record that still stands today.
We worked hard to change our fixture list to the period March to September.
In addition, I created our own catering business. We were the first racecourse to do this, many have followed since even one of the two big groups. I proposed to our board of directors that we needed to control the prices of our food and drink and the quality.
We bought out Partyfare but retained their senior staff. This was probably one of my best ideas.
There are always ups and downs in business but I was content we were now in control of all income streams and could make decisions that we felt were right for the business.
One of the most disheartening aspects is planning consent.
The racecourse is situated on a floodplain and in the past ten years we have not been able to build within the racecourse. We have two grandstands that were built in 1964 and 1969. Unfortunately, it has been very frustrating that we cannot knock down the oldest grandstand and re-build.
In recent years we have been awarded many accolades within the industry and locally. We are a Gold Standard racecourse with the Owners' Association. Owners are a special group who provide the horses for our racing.
Over the past five years we have provided between 48 per cent and 70 per cent of total prize money which in the past three years is around £1.2 million per year.
Welfare of the horse is top of the priority list and we were the pioneers of padded hurdles. Since their introduction, injury rates have fallen. Considering we race on quicker ground during the summer, this is a very creditable achievement.
My staff work extremely hard to ensure horse welfare is foremost at Newton Abbot.
When I first started at Newton Abbot it was hard to imagine that I would be here 30 years later. I have had the privilege of meeting some fantastic people within this great industry of ours, many of whom have become, and still are, great friends.
The journey so far has been challenging but with so many rewards. I have been blessed with five chairmen whom all have been incredibly supportive and encouraged and challenged me to achieve the best for the racecourse.
I am indebted to the numerous staff that have worked for me in that time, many of whom have been with me for upwards of ten years.
The Covid-19 pandemic is the most difficult period of my time here, but this is another challenge and one we are confident we will come through. There have been two main aims – to look after the staff and ensure we have a viable business when normal operations resume.
Lastly, this achievement of 30 years would not have been possible without the support of my darling wife Vivienne, our children Hannah and Ashley, and my parents and family.