During 2019 a total of 5.62 million people attended horse race meetings in the UK, so it should come as no surprise then that the ‘sport of king,’ as it’s sometimes called, is the second most popular spectator sport in Britain. There are sixty racecourses in Britain, stretching from the far north of Scotland in Perth down to the southwest of England, in Devon, where the popular summer venue of Newton Abbot is located.
The sport’s popularity holds either no geographic or demographic bounds, with it being as much loved by the old as the young and as well-liked in the north as it is in the south. The north of England holds its fair share of prestigious races, such as the St Ledger, Doncaster’s pinnacle flat race, and the oldest of all the five classics. And let’s not forget Aintree, home to the most challenging steeplechase in the world, the Grand National.
As competitive as racing is in the North, it’s the south of England that serves us up with the richest and most prestigious race of all. Situated in Surrey, southeast England, Epsom racecourse is the home to Britain’s most illustrious of all flat races, the Epsom Derby. Worth a cool £1.5 million in 2019, with £850,000 going to the winner, the race first took place in 1780 and was won by Diomed. This of course doesn’t take into account the huge exchange of money thanks to betting. Epsom has a wide variety of betting options available to the public, whether you’re at the course or in the comfort of your own home. If you want to find a good betting provider British Racecourses have an exhaustive list of betting all sites here.
Unsurprisingly, the richest race in British racing draws large crowds, with attendance swelling to 130,000 when the Epsom Downs is taken into consideration, an area that is freely available to the general public, which affords great views of the course. The Surrey-based course is also home to one other English classic, the Epsom Oaks. This, the second oldest of the five, was first run in 1779, with Bridget taking his place in the winners’ enclosure.
Hot on the heels of Epsom is Ascot. It might not be able to match the big prize money up for grabs in the Derby or have the honour of holding any of the five classics, but it certainly makes up for it with its royal tag attached to one of its summer festivals. Royal Ascot takes place annually in June and is attended by the queen and accompanying family members, who watch the four days of racing from the royal enclosure.
The Berkshire course is home to thirteen of the thirty-one group one races, including St James Palace Stakes, Kings Stand Stakes, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Gold Cup, which takes place at the royal meeting. Every year, the ever-popular course is attended by over six hundred thousand racegoers and is home to both flat and national hunt racing.
Notable jump races held at the southern-based course include the Clarence House Chase, Ascot Chase, and the Long Walk Hurdle. The course, which has a capacity of seventy thousand, held its first race meeting on August 11th, 1711. The race, ‘Her Majesty’s Plate,’ was open to any horse over the age of six, mare or gelding, and offered 100 guineas to the winner. A long way from the spoils on offer at Ascot today.
Royal Winsor Park
Continuing with both the royal theme and the south of England, Royal Windsor Racecourse is home to twenty-seven flat races between April and October. The Berkshire course, which is less than fifteen minutes away from Heathrow Airport, is one of only two figure-eight courses in the United Kingdom, the other being Fontwell Park, in Arundel, West Sussex.
Set in 165 acres of stunning Berkshire countryside, the course, located on its own island on the River Thames, is only a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle. This idyllic venue allows for delightful race days and summer evenings of entertainment as well as the chance to arrive in style from Winsor town centre by opting for a riverboat as your mode of transport.
Located in the civil parish of Greenham, Berkshire, Newbury Racecourse is home to both flat and national hunt racing as well as offering high octane entertainment with its famous acts taking their place on the stage over the summer months. Offering over twenty-eight days of racing over the year, including one of the national hunts’ most prestigious races, the Hennessy Gold Cup and flat racings Lockinge Stakes won by the unbeaten Frankel in 2012.
What could be better than taking in a day’s racing and finishing it off with a night of fun and entertainment watching famous stars such as Tom Jones, the Beach Boys, and Madness to name a few, belt it out on stage at Newbury’s famous party in the Paddock race days.
The south of England has an abundance of top quality horse racing to offer both its residents and visitors alike. These racecourses may only be a short journey from the hustle and bustle of the centre of London. But with their idyllic and picture-postcard settings, you could be easily led to thinking you’re a million miles away.