Horse racing is a year-round sport in Britain, switching between the flat racing of the summer to the National Hunt features the rest of the year. Such a massive staple of British culture is horse racing that well over 50 racecourses across Great Britain exist.
There is tremendous variety among the many tracks in terms of conditions, layout and of course, weather. This is a massive part of why British racing is so popular, the different challenges. A one-mile sprint at Chester is likely going to be a lot different from a one-mile trip at Cheltenham, just because of terrain and course lay out.
Among all of the racetracks in Britain, there are those special ones which are steeped in rich racing history. There are just some racecourses which immediately jump to mind and that is because of them hosting big festivals and some of the top races laden with financial riches and prestige.
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The English Racecourse Classics
There are five Classics in British racing, the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket. The Epsom Oaks and the Derby Oaks at Epsom Downs and the St Leger at Doncaster.
A combination of these creates the Triple Crown, which is a tough feat to pull off in modern day racing, because of the different challenges each of the races presents.
The 2,000 Guineas is the first leg of the Triple crown over 1 mile. The second leg is the Epsom Derby at 1 mile 4 furlongs and then the third leg is the St Leger Stakes at 1 mile and 6 furlongs.
The 1,000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks are only open to fillies which creates a Fillies’ Triple Crown along with the St Leger. That having been said fillies can still compete in both the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby as well.
If you are looking for a course which hosts one of the highest amounts of top British races, then Ascot it is. The operation of the Berkshire racecourse benefits from hosting both flat and national hunt racing all year round. It is host to around one third of the annual Group 1 races that are run in Britain.
There is the big Royal Ascot Festival there and the course is only a stone’s throw from Window Castle. The notable race of Royal Ascot Festival is the Gold Cup. The course was founded back in 1711 and a century later an act was passed to ensure that it stayed as lands of the public. Ascot also hosts British Champions day, the climax of the British Champions Series.
Prestbury Park in Cheltenham is home to one of the most famous races in the world. That is the eponymous Cheltenham Gold Cup, a blue riband fixture of national hunt racing. That race itself is the pinnacle of the four-day national hunt Cheltenham Festival which is held annually in March.
The Gloucestershire course hosts some of the biggest races in the calendar year just in that one festival, with the likes of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ryanair, Stayers Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle highlights alongside the Gold Cup. Cheltenham has two courses, an old one and a new one with setups for steeplechases, hurdles and cross country.
Aintree has to make it onto the list because of one thing. That one thing is a big thing, the Grand National. The course itself is only for national hunt races but there are two courses there, both of them left-hand turns. The Grand National is part of the Aintree Festival which is a three-day event in April.
It is just the rich history of the famous steeplechase that is the Grand National which has made Aintree what it is. It’s where great moments of British horse racing have been created such as Red Rum’s historic treble.
The famous Surrey course is public space and still to this day, the public can get to watch one of the great Classics of British racing, the Derby, for free. It’s all flat racing at Epsom although the course has a steep rise up to the famous Tattenham corner (a big left turn) before descending on the straight.
Along with the Derby, the course plays hosts to the Oaks and the Coronation Cup. The Oaks did actually come into being before the Derby did. This is another of the British racing institutions where British Royalty usually puts in an appearance. The history of racing on the Downs goes back to the 1600s.
Newmarket consists of two courses, the Rowley Mile and the July Course. It is over the former that most of the top races hosted at Newmarket are run. Newmarket is home to the British Classics the 2,000 guineas and the 1,000 Guineas and both of those are contested on the Rowley Mile. The racecourse itself came into being in 1636.
It is located in Suffolk and is for flat racing only. Nowhere else in Britain is there a larger number of training yards than there is at Newmarket. It hosts famous horse auctioneers Tattersalls, as well as the National Stud. The place itself is generally regarded as being the home of British racing. A quarter of all Group 1 races in Britain happen at Newmarket.
Not to be confused with Sandown in Melbourne Australia. The Surrey course in England was opened in 1875 and it immediately started charging people to come in, making it one of the first courses where people had to cough up some cash for entry. Sandown Park currently hosts both flat and national hunt racing.
It’s a pretty simple design is the Sandown course, a right-handed oval track which is slashed across diagonally for some straight sprint action. It is a busy and popular track for racing all year round. Some of the popular features include the Sandown Mile, the Celebration Chase, the Bet365 Gold Cup and the Tingle Creek Chase.
York has to be on the list because of such a fantastic history. The North Yorkshire track is one of the oldest venues in Britain and it is still going strong. York’s history can be traced back to the early 1700’s but there’s no definite date when the equine action went down there.
This is the home of the Ebor Festival, an annual August affair during which the Ebor Handicap is run. That is the most prominent of the races that the course hosts.
It is a flat racecourse with the notable races alongside the Ebor Handicap being the Dante Stakes, International Stakes and the Nunthorpe stakes. It has been crowned racecourse of the year multiple times.
The feature races that are hosted at the Sussex track are The Sussex Stakes, Stewards’ Cup, Goodwood Cup and the Nassau Stakes. They are both rolled up into the famous Glorious Goodwood Festival, which lasts for five wonderful days. There is only flat racing at Goodwood and just on twenty days out of the calendar year.
The Goodwood course is a little strange in that there is a long six-furlong straight at the end of which is a big loop. Along that loop there are different starting points for different distances. The loop is famous for being so uneven and the entire course itself is fairly tight. On top of that, because the straight goes downhill to the finish, horses have to watch their balance. It creates some thrilling racing.
The home of the British Classic the St Leger Stakes. Even though barely any horse attempts the Triple Crown any more, the fact that Doncaster hosts the last leg of it still gives it pride of place among Britain’s top ten racecourses. Doncaster is impressive and its history stretches back to the 16th century. The South Yorkshire course plays host to both flat and national hunt racing.
The St Leger and the Doncaster Cup are two of the oldest horse races in the world, and another of the feature races hosted at the track is the Lincoln Handicap. The track is a left-handed one with a five-furlong straight.
Haydock has a big warm place in the heart of British racing. This is the other Merseyside course along with Aintree and it hosts both flat and jumps racing. There is some big action that happens at Haydock, none bigger than the Betfair Chase. That race is the opening leg of the £1 million Chase Triple Crown, with Kempton’s King Goerge and the Cheltenham Gold Cup completing it.
The racecourse as it stands today was opened in 1899 although horse racing in the area was going on before it was inaugurated. Another of the simple tracks in Britain, it is oval with an extra straight extension making up a six-furlong straight for some sprint action. Both flat and national hunt racing happens at Haydock and it’s only out of action for three months of the year (March, April and October).
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