Behind the scenes: How they're getting ready for the St Leger Festival at Doncaster Racecourse

It's been a mad couple of weeks for staff at Doncaster Racecourse – but with the St Leger just days away, they reckon they are ready for anything now.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 10:16 am

The biggest week in the borough’s racing calendar starts on Wednesday, with the first of four days of a festival which culminates with the running of the world's oldest classic horse race, the St Leger, on Saturday September 14.

For upwards of 60,000 spectators who are set to fill the Town Moor venue over the week – and expected to sell out many of the borough's hotels – things will be straight forward.

But for around 1,000 permanent and temporary staff who will be running the show, it is nose to the grindstone time behind the scenes.

Roderick Duncan, Clerk of the course, pictured with groundsmen Sean Jones and Steve Watson. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-27-08-19-Racecourse-2

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Among the busiest people in Doncaster this week will be clerk of the course Roderick Duncan.

He is responsible for the state of the track for what will be one of the biggest paydays in horse racing for the winner.

Mowing the grass on the track is a big job. The St Leger itself is run over a mile and six furlongs – which is about 1.75 miles. But the track is just under two miles long and takes some mowing.

Mr Duncan estimates it takes around six hours to cut that amount of grass, But its not just the track that's being cut, as there are spectator areas to mow as well.

James Lee and Jessica Zincke, at Doncaster Racecourse. Both are working their first St Leger this year

The team preparing the track are working six days a week to have things ready and it will be Mr Duncan who assesses what track condition will be like. He will tell owners and trainers, potentially affecting who decides to enter their horses into the race.

If it is dry, he will also have the big task of watering the circuit – so he has been following long range weather forecasts for some time.

His job will continue through the races and that will include checking the track after each race.

A team of around 40 ‘treaders’ has been recruited whose job will be to walk round the track after races flattening the ground again with their feet and filling in any divots that the horses have left in the course. They will be out at the end of each day.

Roderick Duncan, Clerk of the course, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-27-08-19-Racecourse-3

Mr Duncan is now an old hand at this – he has been in the job seven years now.

Racecourse executive director Russell Smith said: "The work is already well underway with the estates team getting the track ready and putting up temporary buildings.

“There are thousands of pieces of furniture that need to be cleaned, lawns need cutting and we up the number of casual staff. We're pretty much building a small city here.

"We are full every night at the hotel here on the site during the races.

Steve Watson, groundsman, pictured working on the course. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP-27-08-19-Racecourse-1

"We are expecting most of the hotels in Doncaster will be full and will be able to get a good price for their rooms. In the past, the Leger week has generated £45 million in four days for the Doncaster economy."

Mr Smith said he expects the race to boost not only the hotels, but restaurants, shops selling outfits, and services such as hairdressers, who help people get ready for their big day out.

Traditionally, Thursday was a big day as ladies' day, but now there is also gentlemen’s day on the Friday as well.

Some of those staying in Doncaster for the races are already in their hotels – television crews who will be filming the action for showing in a number of countries around the world are already checked in and working.

The weather is also important. Although Mr Duncan hopes for some rain in the run-up to the festival so he does not need to water the track as much, organisers hope for dry race days.

But major contingencies are in place for rain, with wooden huts ready to be rolled out on the site if necessary. A decision on whether to put them in place is made shortly before the start of the festival.

Umbrellas would also be available too if it is wet. If the forecast is hot, free sun cream will be given out, along with free water to keep people hydrated.

Jessica Zincke is working her first St Leger this year. The 25-year-old, from Edlington, is part of the commercial team at the course and has already worked late nights on the production line mailing out tickets for the race days.

On race days, she will be co-ordinating the Marquee Club 1776, making sure all the racegoers there have everything they want and their information packs.

In the past she has been to the big race week as a spectator a number of times.

She said: "I've been here six months, but this is my first Leger working here. It's been brilliant and we've had a real camaraderie, everyone mucking in. We have worked until 9.15pm some nights printing tickets to make sure everyone has their tickets.

"I have been to the Leger before – I think it's a great atmosphere, but you don't realise the scale of the logistics until you work here."

James Lee, 54, from Bawtry, is also set to work his first Leger, having got a job at the course eight weeks ago. Previously working for Yellow Pages, and in child care, he got a job at the course in racing sales, looking for suitable packages for customers.

He loves racing and his dad has had a stake in a race horse in the past. He has been to many a Leger and says he loves the racecourse.

"I'm a racing fan," he said. "My passion has always been to represent the racecourse, so it's a bit of a dream come true for me. I started here just before the Rita Ora show here.

"I will be working on Leger day, looking after people in the stand, making sure they're getting what they need in the hospitality boxes.

"I gather the favourite this year is expected to be Logician – I’m looking forward to seeing it run"

They may be working – but they are still set to be able to watch the big race on Saturday, according to course commercial boss Nikki Griffiths. She is keen to make sure everyone gets to see the main event, whether working or not.

Director of Sales Nikki said: "Unless there is something major that we have to do for a logistic reason, we will all watch the St Leger."

St Leger Week in numbers

Over the four days:

More than 3,500 jugs of Pimms

More than 100,000 pints

More than 3,000 bottle of Champagne

More than 5,000 bottles of Prosecco

More than 4,500 gin and tonic serves

More than 10,000 hospitality meals

More than 1,000 staff on Leger Saturday

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