A legendary horse race is being resurrected 70 years after it was last run. Vicky Farncombe reports.
It was once as famous a race as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, attracting the top horse trainers and jockeys from across the UK.
But when Pershore Racecourse was taken over as an army training camp at the start of the Second World War, the Land O’Plums Steeple Chase was stopped in its tracks.
The racecourse never re-opened and its top race, first run in 1899, was consigned to the history books.
Now, more than 70 years since horses last thundered down Pershore, the aptly-named chase is being resurrected to celebrate the Worcestershire town’s annual plum festival which takes place throughout August.
“We wanted to keep the festival fresh to attract a new range of people. We’ve done the plum princess, we’ve done selling the plums, so when I heard about the race, I thought what a perfect way to promote the festival,” says tourism officer Angela Tidmarsh.
With Pershore Racecourse now defunct, Worcester was the obvious place to hold the chase.
The Land O’Plums Chase will be the feature race at the meeting on Friday (August 6) which has been named, in honour of the plum festival, the Pershore Plum Festival Family Fun Race Day.
The day looks set to be purple perfection with race goers encouraged to sport the colour, have their faces painted mauve and sample the many plum-related products on sale from cheeses to chutneys.
Hospitality manager at Worcester Racecourse, Jenny Cheshire, says: “We’re delighted to be reviving the race.
“It’s a coup. I hope it will raise the profile of the course as it’s giving people something totally unique.”
The event will start with an Ascot-style grand parade featuring the famous Hook Norton Brewery Shire Horses, festival mascot Prunella the Pershore Purple Plum and the newly-crowned Plum Princess Freya Baah, aged 8.
One person eagerly counting down the days is race enthusiast Roy Hirons, aged 67, of Pershore, who played in the old grandstand as a child.
He has organised a memorabilia exhibition to coincide with the race including the original winning post which he hopes will bring many memories flooding back for those old enough to remember the course.
“It does give me a tingle to think of it coming back,” he says.
Organisers hope the race will make this year’s festival even more popular than last year, when more than 12,000 visitors came to celebrate the town’s three famous plums: the Pershore Purple, Pershore Yellow Egg plum and Pershore Emblem.
The festival concludes on August 30 with the Pershore Plum Fayre Day and Farmers’ Market – the town’s biggest annual event.
Other highlights include guided coach plum tours on August 18 and 26, Plum Stock – the Glastonbury of Pershore – which takes place over the weekend of August 28-29 and features local bands, and The Big Plum Beer, Food and Music Festival at the Angel Inn Hotel which runs from August 28-30.
To find out more, visit www.pershoreplumfestival.org.uk