The new season begins at Exeter Racecourse on Thursday, October 6, the first of 17 racing fixtures that race through until May, and this year’s curtain raiser is a fundraiser for the charity Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony.
The charity was founded by 18-year-old event rider Hannah Francis who passed away in August just 15 months after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma.
A talented horsewoman, in 2015 Hannah had been accepted onto a Rider Development Eventing Pathway camp with the aim of upgrading her mare Mavis to intermediate level. Her cancer diagnosis changed everything and instead she changed people’s lives for the better.
Hannah began gruelling chemotherapy and chronicled the ups and downs of her illness from the point of view of her own cuddly toy mascot, called Willberry Wonder Pony. A close friend suggested selling Willberry Wonder Pony wrist bands to raise money, and her fundraising campaign was an instant success.
She made every day count and raised more than £115,000 through fundraising events and selling Willberry merchandise. She had the support of many stars from equestrianism including Olympians William Fox-Pitt, Kitty King, Pippa Funnell and double dressage gold medalist Charlotte Du Jardin.
In May, Hannah announced that Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony had been approved as a registered charity and to date it has raised in excess of £190,000 for its two causes - funding bone cancer research and granting equine related wishes to seriously ill young people.
In support of this wonderful charity Exeter Racecourse is donating £1 of every pre-booked ticket to the charity and merchandise will be available to buy.
General manager Daniel Thompson said: “Hannah inspired so many people. She was courageous and selfless and she worked so hard to improve the lives of others despite her own very bleak prognosis. This prompted us to dedicate our first race meeting of the season to her charity so that we can help raise funds and awareness of the incredible work she did. So many people have been inspired by Hannah, including us all here at Exeter Racecourse and we are delighted to be able to support Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity.”
Ian Peters, Charity Trustee, said: "Hannah's Willberry Wonder Pony Charity are delighted to be Exeter Racecourse's chosen charity for their opening day. The equestrian community has provided incredible support for Hannah and the charity and we are hugely grateful for people's ongoing efforts. We're looking forward to a brilliant day at Exeter and thank everyone in advance for coming out to help build Hannah's legacy."
A free behind the scenes tour of the racecourse takes place an hour behind the first race, meeting outside the weighing room, and raceday announcer, Luke Harvey, will be providing his tips on the winners’ podium half an hour before horses come under starters’ orders.
Advance tickets cost £13 – Grandstand and Paddock or £18 - Premier (£15 or £20 respectively on the day) and children aged 17 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. The Haldon Premier package is available for £25 in advance and includes Premier Admission, racecard, £5 meal voucher and glass of wine or pint of beer. For advance bookings of ten or more, Grandstand and Paddock tickets cost £10 each.
The Desert Orchid package, which includes a cavery, is available for just £80 including VAT per person and enjoys stunning panoramic views of the course with your own private table. Gates opens at 12.20, the first race is off at 14:20 and the last race 17:10. A free bus is available from Exeter St Davids 12.40pm and Exeter Bus Station 12.55 returning half an hour after the last race.