The UK is blessed with dozens of iconic racecourses and they play host to some of the world’s most prestigious meetings. Every year the finest sprinters, chasers and stayers from across the globe descend upon Britain to vie for fame and fortune in races like the 2000 Guineas, the Grand National and the Derby. Brits are lucky to have 60 different racecourses to visit throughout the years but a handful of them really stand out:
Ascot is the beating heart of the £3.7 billion UK horse racing industry. It plays host to 13 of Britain’s 36 annual Group 1 races, including the fabled King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Queen Anne founded Ascot in 1711 after becoming impressed with the area’s potential while out hunting in nearby Windsor Forest. The Royal Family retains extremely close links to the racecourse, arriving en masse each year for Royal Ascot, the richest and most prestigious meeting in the British calendar.
It features eight Group 1 races and 19 Group races in total, spread over five days of thrilling action. The world’s finest horses, jockeys and trainers jet in to pit their wits against the titans of the British racing scene, and the resulting battles are always exhilarating. Each year, 300,000 racegoers don their finest garbs and attend Royal Ascot to watch races like the Gold Cup, the Queen Anne Stakes and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II wept tears of joy as she became the first reigning monarch to win the Gold Cup in the 207-year history of the race, courtesy of a fine performance from Estimate.
Ascot features racing throughout the year, including both flat and National Hunt meetings on the mixed purpose track. There are 26 days of racing in total and you are guaranteed an exciting spectacle, while the entertainment and cuisine maintain a remarkably high standard throughout the year. Brits have enjoyed horse racing since Roman times and it is often referred to as the “sport of kings”. Ascot is the ultimate destination for anyone that wants to appreciate its heritage and links to the royals.
Cheltenham is the spiritual home of the National Hunt scene. It hosts all of the most prestigious races of the jumps racing season during a four-day bonanza each March, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle. There are 14 Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival and it is here that reputations are made, legends are born and champions are crowned. The Gold Cup is the blue riband event of the season, but the four-day meeting is packed full of prestigious renewals.
The Cheltenham Festival is the biggest horse racing betting event in the UK, as the bookmakers enjoying a roaring trade in the build-up to the meeting and during the four days of action. Cheltenham also hosts an eagerly anticipated meeting each November, which is when the National Hunt season really begins in earnest. The racecourse is set on 350 acres in the heart of the Cotswolds, and it is a huge economic contributor to the region. Every year it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, and they are treated to some truly elating action.
Aintree is the home of Britain’s most famous race, the Grand National. This epic steeplechase takes place over 4 miles and 514 yards on the gruelling course, and the runners must clear a total of 30 fences. They include such terrifying obstacles as The Chair, Becher’s Brook and Canal Turn, and many horses fall in the commotion. Finishing the race is a laudable feat in itself, and winning it ensures immortality. Tiger Roll earned legendary status when he won it for the second consecutive year in 2019, putting him up alongside Red Rum in the all-time pantheon of greats.
Brits love betting on the Grand National. People with zero interest in wagering throughout the entire year will have a flutter on the race. It is also world-famous, beamed out to a TV audience of more than 500 million people across the globe. Yet Aintree is by no means a one-hit wonder, as it also plays host to 11 Grade 1 races and hosts a number of exciting race days throughout the year.
Newmarket is often referred to as the headquarters of the British horseracing scene as it is home to the UK’s largest cluster of training yards. The racecourse itself has hosted prestigious racing since 1667. It is the venue for two of the five Classics – the 2000 Guineas and the 1000 Guineas – and a total of nine out of the 36 Group 1 races held in the UK each year. There are two tracks, the Rowley Mile and the July Course, which alternate throughout the year. Newmarket is one of the best attended racecourses in Britain and it makes a great day out in the summer.
Racing in York dates back to at least the Roman times and perhaps even to the Neolithic era. York Racecourse is blessed with a fascinating heritage and it stands as one of Yorkshire’s main tourist attractions, replete with archaeological wonders and friendly crowds. Big races include the Ebor Handicap, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Nunthorpe Stakes. York has also hosted the races that normally take place at Ascot when the Berkshire course was being renovated. It offers the third largest total prize money of any racecourse in Britain on an annual basis.
Goodwood is one of the most beautiful racecourses in the world. The Sussex Downs provide a picturesque backdrop in a region populated with quintessentially English villages and cosy pubs. The track at Goodwood is unique due to its quirky undulations, and it represents an intriguing test for the various runners that attempt to conquer it. The most prestigious annual meeting is Glorious Goodwood, which includes big races like the Sussex Stakes and the Nassau Stakes. The Spring Meeting and Autumn Meeting are also well attended by major trainers and racegoers alike.
Doncaster is another fantastic Yorkshire racecourse and it is the scene for the beginning and end of the UK flat racing season. The Spring Meeting kicks things off in April and the campaign draws to a close with the St Leger Meeting in September. The St Leger Stakes is a Group 1 race and so is the Racing Post Trophy, which is also held here. Doncaster is a mixed course, offering both flat and National Hunt racing throughout the year, and it offers a great opportunity to glimpse superstars of the future due to its proximity to several big training yards.
Every year Epsom hosts The Derby, one of the world’s most famous races. It has spawned many copycats, including the Kentucky Derby, but The Derby at Epsom is the original and the best. Legends like Shergar, Sea The Stars and Reference point have triumphed there, and it always attracts superstars from across the globe. Epsom, located in the Surrey countryside near London, has a crowd capacity of 130,000 and that creates an electric atmosphere for the big race. The Oaks is another big race held each year at Epsom, as is the Coronation Cup. Haydock, Hamilton, Newbury and Kempton also deserve an honourable mention on any list of the biggest racecourses in Britain.