What makes a racecourse good, bad or indifferent will always be a matter of personal opinion. For some people, the atmosphere that you get on the course is the most important thing, given that they’re more interested in having a drink and a laugh with friends than they are the actual racing. For others, the racing will be paramount and the facilities of the course couldn’t matter less compared to the level of races on offer.
What you personally want from a racecourse will dictate which ones you head to. If, for example, you’ve always wanted to see the Grand National play out in the flesh then you’ll have to head to Aintree Racecourse. If, on the other hand, you like a more personal experience then you might want to head to a small course such as Cartmel. On this page, we’ll look at a few courses and explain why they’re worth visiting.
In the United Kingdom, there are 60 racecourses for either flat or jump racing. There are also 17 multi-purpose tracks, which offer both forms of racing depending on the time of year that you’re looking to attend a meeting. Again, what you want from your day will dictate which course you’ll want to head to, but here’s a look at some of our favourites.
In terms of finding a racecourse that offers the best of everything, you could do a lot worse than head to Cheltenham Racecourse. The Gloucestershire course is relatively easy to get to, thanks to its proximity to the M5 and the centre of Cheltenham itself. It also offers some of the best jump racing that the United Kingdom has to offer, with the Cheltenham Festival being one of the key events on the National Hunt calendar.
The Gold Cup is the undoubted highlight of the Festival, but it’s also the day that tickets are most keenly sought after for. The good news is that all four days of the meeting have a race worth watching, such as the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Triumph Hurdle. If you’re also happy to just experience the course rather than the Festival specifically then there are other, quieter meetings during the rest of the year.
Whatever it is that you’re looking to experience as part of your racecourse-going day, you’ll find it at Prestbury Park. It is a course steeped in history, with amazing facilities and a typically brilliant atmosphere. The racing is also top-notch regardless of the meeting that you choose to attend, which is why it would be on any list looking at the best racecourse around the United Kingdom.
If Cheltenham Racecourse is the home of jump racing then there’s surely no argument that Ascot is the home of racing on the flat. During the year, as many as twenty-six days of racing are hosted at the course, with Royal Ascot being the jewell in the crown. The five-day meeting takes place during the middle of the summer and welcomes a host of celebrities and members of the Royal Family to the course.
Queen Anne founded the course in 1711 and the fact that it’s located between the M3 and M4 and relatively close to London means that it’s always popular with a certain type of crowd. Its proximity to Windsor Park in the middle of scenic countryside means that tourists often have it on their ‘to do’ list, whilst the fact that it boasts a capacity of seventy thousand means that you can get tickets for events if you act quickly enough.
It is probably fair to say that Cheltenham is the course to head to for jump racing purists, whilst Ascot is where those that want to dress up and take themselves very seriously will want to head to. That’s not to suggest that the atmosphere isn’t thriving there, but it’s definitely a course for those that like to be seen. As well as racing, the course also hosts fine dining and a wealth of entertainment events.
When it comes to enjoying a good atmosphere, you will struggle to do better than Aintree Racecourse. The people of Liverpool have long been known as a welcoming bunch, even going as far as to offer trainers, jockeys and visitors somewhere to stay when the Irish Republican Army made a bomb threat that got the Grand National called off in 1997. If you’re hoping for a laugh then this is the place to head.
That’s not to play down the level of racing on offer, however. The aforementioned Grand National is known as the ‘World’s Greatest Steeplechase’ thanks to the feeling that any one of the participating horses could win the event. There are many other decent Graded races that are run either side of the main race, so it’s not as if you’ll just be turning up to the course for a pint and a chat with your friends.
Whilst it’s outside the city of Liverpool, it is easily accessible by train and car from the city centre. That means that after the racing is run you can head off to the city to enjoy even more of the delights that Merseyside has to offer. In addition to the club that has won European Cups and Premier Leagues, there’s also Everton. With two cathedrals and plenty of brilliant bars and restaurants, a trip to Aintree is an excuse to head to Liverpool.
The first of the courses on our list that perhaps wouldn’t be called world-famous, Chester Racecourse earns its place thanks to its proximity to the centre of the city. An old Roman city, Chester has a wall that surrounds the city and runs alongside the racecourse. Set in 65 acres of land, it is close to the River Dee and easy to walk to after having a drink or a bite to eat in the centre of Chester.
Of course, ease of visiting alone isn’t enough to see the course find itself on our list. It is also a venue that has history coming out of its every nook and cranny. It has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest course still in operation, which is no mean feat considering it is one of the UK’s shortest courses. Based over one mile and one furlong, spectators are able to watch races for free from the walls of the city.
Racing at Chester is extremely popular, thanks in no small part to the fact that revellers don’t have far to travel to return to their hotels in the city centre once it’s all over. The likes of the Chester Vase, the Huxley Stakes and the Chester Cup are all competed for on the course, which is a flat racing offering. All told, a trip to Chester Racecourse will present you with some decent racing and a good atmosphere.
If any course were to take the moniker of ‘the home of racing’ away from Ascot then it would surely be Newmarket. The course is known not just for the racing that takes place on it but also the breeding that has made it such a success. Both have taken place here for more than three hundred years, with the two different courses available allowing for different racing depending on the time of year.
The July Course is, as the name suggests, used in the summer months and sees fixtures between June and August run on it. The Rowley Mile, meanwhile, is used during the rest of the year. Two of the five British Classics of flat racing are hosted at Newmarket, with both the 1,000 Guineas and the 2,000 Guineas being run here. Nine of the thirty-six Group 1 races that place in the UK are hosted by the course.
The fact that so many well-known training yards are located close to Newmarket Racecourse means that any event put on here is popular with owners and trainers. It also doesn’t hurt that major organisations like Tattersalls, the National Horseracing Museum and the National Stud are based at Newmarket. It is definitely the place to head if what you’re after is a link to racing’s place in the British sporting world.
Even people who are not particularly into horse racing will have heard the phrase ‘Glorious Goodwood’, which is a meeting held at the course towards the end of July and the start of August. That is one of the biggest meetings in flat racing, with the Sussex Stakes, the Nassau Stakes and the Goodwood Cup all being Group 1 races that take place on the racecourse during what is officially known as the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
Goodwood actually offers a series of different courses, which are essentially the same but based over different lengths and therefore used for different race types. The Stewards’ Cup Course is based over six furlongs, whilst the Craven Course is one mile and two furlongs and the Gratwicke Course is over one mile and four furlongs. Finally, the Bentinck Course is one mile and six furlongs in length.
Whilst Glorious Goodwood is the racecourse’s most famous meeting, it hosts other events during the year that present you with an opportunity to see racing with fewer people there. That being said, you’re unlikely to want to do so if what you’re after is an experience of the course at its most exciting. It is close to the south coast, so you could combine a trip here with a visit to the famous British seaside.
Whilst everyone’s opinion on what makes a racecourse the ‘best’ will differ, the fact that York Racecourse has won the ‘Best Racecourse In Britain’ award on several occasions means that it would be churlish for us to leave it off this list. Arguably the best course north of Liverpool, if fulfils most of the requirements that racegoers would have in terms of ticking as many boxes as possible.
Whilst it’s a slightly longer walk from the centre of York to the course than it is from Chester city centre to Chester Racecourse, it’s still close enough to mean that accessibility is good for most people. Add to that the excellent facilities on offer and the fact that the racing is always excellent and you can start to see why York Racecourse is one you’ll want to visit. If you can, try to time your trip here with the Ebor Festival.
If you manage to do so then you’ll be present at the richest flat racing meeting in the United Kingdom, finding yourself in a throng of racing lovers who want to enjoy the very best. Unlike some other flat racing courses, the feeling here isn’t one of stuffiness and feeling as though you need to watch your airs and graces. Instead, you’ll be swept away in a sense of fun and entertainment, often with live music to help.
Those that know racing will perhaps view this as something of a curveball entry on our list, but it is seen by many as being the home of Scottish horse racing. For that reason alone it deserves to be mentioned, given that not all good racing is dominated by the English. The Scottish know how to have a good time and how to throw a party, so it’s no surprise that Hamilton Park is as well known for its entertainment as its racing.
If you’re the sort of person that likes a good knees up then you’d do well to get yourself a ticket for a meeting here, where pre and post-racing entertainment is as well-thought out as the racing itself. That’s not to suggest that the racing is an afterthought, however. It was the first course in the United Kingdom to host evening racing, with the success of it leading other courses to follow suit post-haste.
The likes of the Glasgow Stakes and the Braveheart Stakes are run at Hamilton Park, which is found to the south of the city that the first race is named after. Open during the flat racing season from May to October, racing has been seen at the venue since the late 1700s. The course as you’ll currently find it opened its doors in 1926, though it has undergone numerous changes since then to help modernise it.