PONTEFRACT RACES (1954) film no: 2109

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This film is in three parts:  the first shows the retirement presentation of Mr Fell, the second a day at Pontefract races, and the third of places in Wales and Cheddar Gorge.

The film opens with Mr Fell at his retirement presentation where speeches are made, and Mr Fell and his wife are presented with a bouquet of flowers.  Mr Fell also makes a speech.  The film briefly shows some women eating in the work canteen before two men making their way through some heather and up a hill.  There is a small aerodrome with gliders taking off and landing.

There is a poster advertising Pontefract Races on Wednesday and Thursday the 29th and 30th September.  Then the film goes straight into a race, with the horses setting off.  Cars and buses arrive and are directed by a traffic policeman on a pedestal.  People also arrive on foot, buying a racing paper en route.  Horses are also shown being lead to the ground and parade around the grounds before the race.  Jockeys mount the horses, and crowds throng around the betting stands.  There are several horse races, and bookies take bets.  Some of the winners are being paid out.  Horses are paraded around, and finally put back into their boxes ready to leave.

The last part of the film shows various places in Wales - Carnarvon Castle/Menai Bridge - and finally a few seconds of Cheddar Gorge.

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This film is one of several made by Roger Oxley Fell, a hospital dentist at St James's Hospital in Leeds, who is seen at the beginning of the film receiving his retirement presentation. The films reflect Roger Fell’s interest in horse racing and golf, with the latter going back to 1948 and including film of Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Fell also made some film of his dental work.   
 
Pontefract racecourse is one of nine racecourses in Yorkshire, specialising in flat racing – as opposed to National Hunt racing over fences. It has the longest continuous racing circuit in the country, when it changed its shape in April 1983 from that of a horseshoe to that of an oval. Although York has a longer circuit, this is generally not used. A new grandstand was built after the First World War, opening in 1922. Remarkably, racing continued there during the Second World War, when the only other northern racecourse functioning was Stockton.  There were more refurbishments in the 1990s, and the new Dalby Stand opened in August 1995.
 
Horse racing as we know it today might be said to have began under James I, who made Newbury the first place of modern racing.  Although Cromwell banned horse racing it was taken up again by Charles II, who held races between just two horses. But it only really took off during the reign of Queen Anne, between 1702 and 1714, when it became a professional sport with racecourses holding races having several horses, and in which spectators could place bets.   It was Queen Anne who founded Ascot in 1711. It continued to grow in the 18th century when the Jockey Club was formed in 1752. This introduced comprehensive rules and governed horse racing until 1993, when the British Horse Racing Board was established. It was in the 18th century that there developed the breeding of thoroughbreds, a combination of English and Arab horses. 
 
It was also in the 18th century that evidence of the first race at Pontefract took place, on 5th October 1790. A grandstand was begun in 1802, financed by a scheme which sold members badges for £50 allowing entry for 20 years.   The following year the Pontefract Cup was started. Although the wealthy owned the horses, the punters often came from the working class, and races were deliberately timed for late afternoon after miners had come off their shifts.
 
Statistics on horse racing, in some detail, can be found on the website of the British Horse Racing Board. The most recent ones published, for 2006, show that the total prize money for Pontefract just tipped £1m, with Newmarket and Ascot well in the lead with over £7m each (York came third with well over £5m).  For more on horse racing see the Context for The Magnet Cup (1960).
 
An interesting sociological take on horse racing was penned by Marvin Scott, The Racing Game, which looks as horse racing as social organisation and basically contends that information, or misinformation, is at the core of horse racing – as any betting person could probably tell you. Hence as well as knowledge of the horses and jockeys, professional gamblers require knowledge of how the odds are compiled and how to make use of the different kinds of bet. Advice on betting is readily available, but the cost of gambling can be high: it is estimated that half a million Britons have a problem with gambling – although betting on the horses is only a part of this. Some have laid the blame for this on the relaxation of the laws that came with the Gambling Act of 2005. But for most of the millions of race goers, a day at the races is just an enjoyable day out.
 
References
 
Charles Chenevix Trench, A History of Horsemanship, Longman, 1970.

 

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