There are 60 racecourses, including 17 multi-purpose tracks, operating in the UK. Each has their own special qualities.
So what are the best UK racecourses?
Aintree is a jumps-only track with two courses, both left-handed. For a few brief moments each year in April, Aintree hosts the world’s most famous race: The Grand National. This race is run over 4 and half miles, with 16 steeplechase fences including the famous fences of ‘Canal Turn’, ‘The Chair’ and ‘Becher’s Brook’. Canal Turn is jumped twice during the National and is named due to the Leeds-Liverpool canal just beyond the boundary of the course.
In addition, Aintree hosts an additional four racedays a year as well as housing the longest nine-hole golf course in the country, nestled within the Grand National course.
Over 300,000 people make the annual visit to Berkshire during Royal Ascot week, making this Europe’s best-attended race meeting. Ascot’s five-day annual Royal Ascot event is held in the third week of June, which is regularly attended by Queen Elizabeth II and various other members of the Royal Family. Windsor Castle is located just over six miles down the road. Ascot receives huge media attention and is noted for it’s visitors; many of which dress in elegant attire, with the ladies often sporting elaborate hats.
There are plenty of other meets to attend through the seasons, with every race day having a unique theme. This includes a summer cocktail party in July, an eighties concert in August, a food and wine festival in September, a beer festival in October, fireworks in November and a number of dedicated family race days.
The course at Ascot is a right-handed galloping track, coming in at slightly over 1m6f in length with an 8f final straight. Ascot is famously known for its brutally challenging and tough uphill finish, with the lowest to highest point around the triangular shaped course measuring a gruelling 73-foot climb.
Situated in a natural amphitheatre in Prestbury Park, just below the Cotswold Hills, the Cheltenham racecourses host the incredibly popular ‘Cheltenham Festival’, a four-day yearly racing event held in March. The festival boasts the largest tented village of any kind at all sporting events across the country.
Cheltenham has a huge capacity of 67,500, and in 2013 there was a £45million redevelopment enabling an additional 6,500, including a brand new Royal box. The venue is also used for the annual Wychwood music festival.
There are three separate courses at Cheltenham, the old course and the new course that run alongside each other, and a cross-country course in the middle. Both left-handed, the cross-country course goes round in a figure of eight shape, whilst the two National Hunt courses are oval shaped.
Doncaster is one of the oldest racecourses in the UK and has hosted National Hunt racing on the site since the 16th century. Every year the course hosts The Doncaster Cup which was first was run in 1766 and now remains the oldest surviving horse race in the world. The racecourse also hosts the annual ‘Tattoo Festival’ every October.
The Flat circuit is a left-handed track of almost two miles, with a run-in of five furlongs. The course is best suited to a long-striding horse and a powerful galloper. The jumps course, a mainly flat track, has 11 fences to a circuit and a 240-yard run-in.
Based in the Surrey Downs, Epsom is shaped like an elongated horseshoe and situated on the largest remaining public space south of London. The grounds allows visitors to watch the Derby for free — a race that used to be the most attended sporting event of the year. Epsom also houses the third largest racehorse training facility in the country.
The track rises 150 feet in the first half mile then levelling out before a downhill stretch round Tattenham Corner. The straight five-furlong course is one of the fastest in the world.
There are 20 days of action each every year at the Sussex Downs course. The most prestigious event is the five-day Glorious Goodwood Festival — one of the major highlights of the flat racing calendar. Goodwood also features two of the UK’s 31 Group One flat races: The Sussex Stakes and The Nassau Stakes.
Goodwood is a right-handed track with severe undulations. The course is totally unsuited to the big, long-striding horse. Small, handy types who can maintain their balance downhill have the advantage here. The five furlong straight course is one of the fastest in the country, so speed from the gate is essential.
Hamilton Park is somewhat of a pioneer for UK horse racing. In 1947, Hamilton became the first British racecourse to host an evening fixture, whilst in 1971 it was also the first British course to stage a morning meeting. The racecourse is sometimes called the “Goodwood of the North” as the two courses have a similar layout with a right-handed loop at the bottom and a stiff uphill straight.
Hamilton Park is a right-handed undulating loop course, with a severe dip three furlongs from the finish and a steady uphill run to the line. Races over one mile three furlongs and upwards start in the home straight, run the reverse way, taking the lower bend around the loop before entering the home straight via the top bend.
Newmarket racecourses are known throughout the world as as the British horse racing headquarters (and even the headquarters of Flat racing) due to being home of the largest cluster of training yards in the country. It also features the National Stud and National Horse Racing Museum.
Newmarket has two courses: the Rowley Mile and the July course. On the Rowley Mile all races from five to ten furlongs are run on the straight with a marked dip over a furlong out with a stiff uphill finish. All races over a mile and a quarter are run right handed.
All meetings taking place during June, July and August, and are run on the July Course with a straight eight furlongs in length and a right handed turn. The track drains well and the going rarely becomes heavy.
Sandown Park racecourse is located in Esher in Surrey. The course opened in 1875 where it held the first Grand National Hunt Chase which is now held at the Cheltenham Festival. Sandown Park is also the home to many non-racing events, such as trade shows, wedding fairs, famous bands & musicians and auctions. The park includes a Karting track, an 18 hole golf course, a dry ski slope, and offers fantastic views of Heathrow Airport, Wembley Stadium, Canary Wharf and the London Eye.
Sandown Park accommodates both flat and National Hunt races. Flat races are run right-handed over an oval shaped course of over a mile. The shorter sprint course cuts diagonally through the centre. The steeplechase course at Sandown is slightly longer than the flat one.
In 1731 racing first took place on the current site, also known as the Knavesmire, making York one of the oldest active Racecourses in the UK. The North Yorkshire course is the third most lucrative racecourse in the UK in terms of prize money, and around 350,000 people visit York each year to watch racing. It stages three of the UK’s 31 group one races.
York is a flat only, left-handed, galloping, track. It’s two miles in extent, with a run-in of five furlongs, with chutes for six furlong and seven furlong starts. The course is considered to be a very fair test of a horse and seems to suit those that like to run prominently all the way.
Why UK Racecourses Are Unique
So what makes British horseracing so special?
Aside from the rich history and tradition attached to our courses, the peculiar British weather adds to the unpredictably of our races. The state of the going ranges from concrete-like to very sloppy — making for exciting racedays with big upsets. In comparison, the USA — who specialise in all-year-round dirt tracks — have more predictable, repetitive races and cater for specific horse types only.
Indeed other countries rival the quality of our facilities, but the UK racecourse layouts are exceptional — featuring tight bends, both left and right-handed, some practically level and others with varying undulations. There’s a track for every horse and this is what makes for a versatile, varied racing that’s unequalled anywhere else in the world.
What’s your favourite UK racecourse?
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