'I was called deluded' - Newcastle chief hails Tapeta switch after Ascot success
Newcastle executive director David Williamson admitted to a sense of "vindication" after the course matched Frankie Dettori with six winners at Royal Ascot.
Frankly Darling, Sir Busker, Dark Vision, Art Power, Dandalla and Palace Pier all raced at Gosforth Park this month and went on to triumph at the royal meeting, providing another significant boost for Newcastle's all-weather course before its marquee Northumberland Plate fixture on ITV on Saturday.
And while the course was well placed to provide Ascot winners with four meetings in the first week following the sport’s resumption, providing significant opportunities for trainers to run their horses with an adequate gap to the royal meeting, a delighted Williamson believes the success justifies the then-controversial decision to tear up the turf course and reopen with a Tapeta surface, laid by Michael Dickinson, in 2016.
Reflecting on the success of horses who warmed up at Gosforth Park – Sandringham winner Onassis also had her last start at the track in October – he said: "It was brilliant and it's vindication of changing the track to Tapeta.
"Would the same horses have come if it was turf? I don't know. But the surface is consistent, that is the key thing, people know what they're running on. The clerk of the course James Armstrong and his team look after it well.
"I had Michael Dickinson's partner Joan on the phone to me yesterday saying congratulations."
Enable and Stradivarius are among the big names who have won on the Tapeta at Newcastle in the past but the original decision to switch from turf racing was far from universally well received.
Williamson recalled: "I had an annual members and boxholders meeting to tell them we were going to change the track to Tapeta and people were very vocal about it.
"I remember saying to two or three annual members they would see better horses and they'd probably see a Classic winner. I was called deluded at the time – but one of those members has since texted me and said I was absolutely right."
The track staged four meetings in the first week after racing resumed, including the very first card, and Williamson was not surprised the course attracted some future stars.
Newcastle was not the only all-weather course to be used as a stepping stone to Ascot success this year, with Pyledriver and Nazeef warming up at Kempton this month, while Hukum also ran there on his previous start. Scarlet Dragon and Khaloosy last appeared on the track at Wolverhampton, albeit some time ago.
"We knew there were horses needing a run," he said. "Local trainers had asked us for gallops to get ready for Ascot.
"I was pleased and proud to go first and James and I thought we could get some really good horses.
"We were chuffed to see all the winners last week and I had a couple myself. I backed Sir Busker and, of course, Palace Pier – when that shot past the line here James and I looked at each other and went 'wow' in a similar way that we did when Enable won here."
Ascot winners John Gosden and Ben Curtis have each benefited from plenty of positive results at Newcastle since the Tapeta track was installed, and have both praised the course after its successful week.
Speaking after Palace Pier’s St James’s Palace Stakes win on Saturday, Gosden said: “I like the straight mile at Newcastle, it’s a proper fair test unlike some all-weather courses which are turning. The straight mile at Newcastle does not lie."
Curtis, who partnered Dandalla in the Albany Stakes and won the rearranged Sagaro and Pavilion Stakes at Newcastle in the first week of the season, said: “The Newcastle form really stood up during the week. It was probably the timing with the resumption of racing there, but regardless of that it's a credit to Newcastle that people are willing to send their best horses to the track.
“You don't always get the best horse winning at a lot of tracks, but at Newcastle if you're on the best horse you normally get the opportunity to show it. It's a big, open track and very fair. It's got a mile straight, which is rare for the all-weather, and it just seems to churn out winners.
“At the time a lot of people were against turning it into an all-weather course as it was a lovely turf track, but it was the right decision and they're getting their rewards.”
There were earlier plaudits for Newcastle when Kameko, who won the transferred Vertem Futurity there last autumn, took the 2,000 Guineas and Williamson said: "I'd love to get more Group races here but the Pattern will dictate that.
"If we get a reputation as a consistent, safe track to run young horses on I'm happy with seeing good two and three-year-olds here.”
More immediately, Williamson is looking ahead to Saturday's Northumberland Plate meeting, which is condensed into one day this year.
"It's probably the best card I've had in 18-20 years here," he said. "It combines all the big races from three days on to one, fair play to the BHA for letting me do it.
"Sadly the prize-money won't be the same but such are the times we are living in and we'll put on a show, it's on ITV and we'll present all the trophies, socially distanced of course.
"And we'll have a Plate winner to follow on from Who Dares Wins – when he took the last race at Ascot it capped a fairytale week."
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