Home to the Grand National, Aintree is of the top National Hunt venues in the circuit. Despite various modifications to the National Course, the race still offers the ultimate challenge to both horse and rider and attracts a massive worldwide audience. Fences the like of Becher’s Brook, The Chair and The Canal Turn have helped to capture the public’s imagination of the race and have become household names in their own right. The Mildmay Course stages all but four of Aintree’s races and is a flat, track with two long straights. It is imperative horses are fast and accurate at their obstacles at both courses.
Founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, Ascot is Britain’s and arguably the world’s most famous racecourse. Although the Berkshire course plays host to a number of top-class National Hunt fixtures, it is on the Flat that it has earned its reputation worldwide with the Royal Meeting in June providing five days of the best racing anywhere on the planet. The combination of the quality of racing, stunning fashion and Royal Processions that take place on each of the four days, stands this meeting apart from any other. A galloping, right-handed track, Ascot provides a stiff test for horses, which can become exceptionally testing in soft ground.
It used to be thought that low numbers were best on the straight course whatever the ground, but that’s no longer true. The draw doesn’t make a lot of difference on the round course, except in races with big fields, where high numbers are best. Increasingly in big field handicaps on the straight course, the winner will come from where the pace is in the race, over any defining draw biases.
Recognised as the premier racecourse in Scotland and hosts regular flat and jump meetings. Its main highlights are the Scottish Grand National held in April and the Western Meeting on the Flat in September that features the Ayr Gold Cup. Approximately one and a half miles in circumference, the course suits long-striding gallopers and provides a searching test of stamina in rain-softened conditions.
Over 5f and 6f, there is a preference for high drawn numbers.
Horse racing activity in this area of County Mayo goes back as far as the 17th century, but Ballinrobe has been an active racecourse since 1921. Perhaps the most famous horse to grace the field here was Doran’s Pride, a Stayers’ Hurdle winner and second twice in the Cheltenham Gold Cup during the 1990s. Ballinrobe encapsulates what Irish racing is all about.
Set in glorious countryside beside the River Dee, Bangor-On-Dee can lay claim to being one of the most picturesque racecourses in Britain. The course offers a unique feature in that races are generally viewed from the grass banks surrounding the track as there is no grandstand. A flat track notable for its three, sharp bends, the course is perfectly set up for front runners.
Set on a hilltop overlooking the famous Roman Spa town, Bath is a sharp, left-handed track which favours runners that are able to gain a prominent, early position. Two other factors that can come heavily into play are the swirling gusts of wind and the stiff, uphill finish. A difficult track for runners, riders and punters, this challenge only adds to the character of the course.
Low numbers are favoured in races of 1m as the start is on a chute and the course turns left most of the way, but the advantage is minimal. The draw rarely has an effect in sprints, although those drawn very high in big fields can find trouble.
A sweeping, left-handed course set into a scenic corner of County Louth, Bellewstown is a small course with big presence. Particularly in summer, where during the main July meeting and August meetings, race-goers turnout in big numbers to experience what the track has to offer – indeed, it is known for a buzzing atmosphere when the sun shines. Bellewstown is another of Ireland’s dual-purpose tracks with both flat and hurdle races. It has a three furlong straight and a fairly testing up-hill finish.
Situated within walking distance of the historic market town, Beverley is a small, friendly track that proves very popular with the locals. A tough, right-handed circuit with an uphill climb to the finish of three furlongs, the course often finds out those with insufficient stamina levels. The five-furlong races often attract several decent juveniles that go on to prove themselves at a far higher level later in the season. With good facilities and a buzzing atmosphere, Beverley’s three evening meetings are particularly well attended.
You have got to be drawn high on fast ground, both over 5f and on the round course, up to 1m100yds. On soft ground, everything changes and low numbers are favoured. Over fast ground, concentrate on the top four stalls over 5f, the top six stalls over 7f100yds and 1m100yds. On softer ground, look at the bottom four stalls over 5f in races with 10+ runners.
Brighton racecourse is set at the top of the south-east coastal town and has wonderful views of the surrounding area. A quirky track, it is in the shape of a horse shoe, is about 1m4f in length and has some undulations, providing a unique test for the horses.
There is no real draw bias, except maybe on really soft ground when very low numbers are at a slight disadvantage as the runners tend to head for the stand rail.
Situated between the Borders and the Lake District, Carlisle provides tourists with an ideal opportunity for a day out at the races. Stamina is an important factor here as the course is galloping in nature and the uphill finish offers a real sting in the tail.
As a right-handed course, one might think high numbers should be favoured, but that is not the case. If anything, runners who come down the centre in the home straight have the advantage.
Cartmel is set in wooded parkland in a picturesque valley in the Lake District and is an ideal venue for a relaxing day at the races. The racecourse itself is blessed with character and, apart from having the longest run-in in the country, it can also boast the highest daily average attendance amongst National Hunt courses. Just over a mile in circumference, this sharp track undoubtedly favours those that race up with the pace.
A popular course, particularly with local trainers, Catterick provides a mix of Flat and National Hunt racing. A sharp, left-handed, oval track of just over a mile, the course lends itself well to the nimble individual that can lie handy. The atmosphere is friendly and meetings are well attended.
On soft ground, high numbers are best in 5f races, but when the ground is good or firmer, low numbers are definitely favoured. On soft ground, horses that are switched over to race nearest the Stand’s Rail are always favoured in round-course races, so keep an eye out for high numbers who race near the pace – they have first refusal.
The home of National Hunt racing, Cheltenham offers the supreme test for chasers and hurdlers. The Cheltenham Festival each March provides one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles featuring ten championship events including the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle. In addition to the Festival, Cheltenham also stages twelve other quality days of racing and is a track that suits horses with a combination of guts and stamina.
Best known for its top-class National Hunt fixtures, Chepstow also offers a busy Flat programme. The track is a long, undulating, two-mile circuit that represents a real stamina test, particularly in soft ground which is often the case for jumps fixtures. The feature race of their season is the Coral Welsh National run over the Christmas holiday which features a host of top-class staying chasers.
One of the most popular tracks in the world, Chester’s facilities blend in well with the ancient charm of the course where racing enthusiasts can elect to watch the action from viewpoints as diverse as the Roman walls overlooking the track or the modern County Stand. The three-day May meeting and the Sunday fixture in August attract huge crowds and it is advisable to arrive early. A round, tight, left-handed track, the action is never far away and the contours provide exhilarating, non-stop action.
Low numbers are easily best, especially in races of up to 7f122yds. Runners drawn high either have to use up early energy to get into position, or drop in behind and risk almost certain traffic problems. Basically, if your horse isn’t drawn 1-6, save your money! (Although there is always an exception to this rule but a rarity)
Wonderfully perched in a wooded area of Clonmel town in County Tipperary, Clonmel Racecourse is a pleasure for fans of racing and is a proper test of a thoroughbred jumper during Autumn and winter months; with an undulating, 1m 2f long right-handed track with boasts a stiff uphill climb to the finish. A firm but fair assessment of a horse, where the best one usually comes to the fore. The feature race of the dual-purpose (flat/jumps) track is the Grade 2 Clonmel Oil chase, which has seen some great names pass the post first. Doran’s Pride won it four times, while the like of Sizing Europe, War Of Attrition, Beef Or Salmon and Edredon Bleu have all won the contest in recent years.
One of Ireland’s busier tracks, Cork racecourse has around twenty fixtures a year covering both flat and national hunt cards. Situated near Mallow, it is a popular venue within the horse racing community and is known to be a fair test for any horse. Formerly known as “Mallow” racecourse, it was established in 1924 but as is the case in many parts of Ireland, racing has held in the vicinity for hundreds of years. It is a flat, right-handed course of 1m 4f in length and also has a flat 6f track.
The Curragh i;n County Kildare is one of great horse racing tracks, not just in Ireland, but on the planet. Known as the home of and a breeding ground for Irish flat racing excellence, the Curragh hosts all five of Ireland’s classic races, including the Irish Derby, the Irish Oaks, the 2000 and 1000 Guineas and the Irish St. Ledger. Home to many thousands of horses and scores of training establishments in the surrounding area, the course is the beating heart of the Irish racing scene and indeed the community at the centre of it all. The main racetrack is a long, winding, right-handed two mile horse-shoe which has played host to a ‘who’s who’ of equine brilliance over the years. There is also a one mile straight course latching onto the main track. The Curragh has all of the facilities you’d expect from a world class racing venue and for trainers, jockeys and owners, it is where everybody wants to be.
Home to the oldest British Classic, the St Leger, Doncaster offers top quality action on the Flat and over the sticks. Well known for its excellent drainage, the ground rarely turns testing putting the emphasis on basic speed rather than stamina. The four-day St Leger Meeting in September is one of the most popular Festivals and features a clutch of Group and Listed races. Over the jumps, the Skybet Chase in January is always a competitive affair and remains one of the highlights of the National Hunt season.
Low numbers can be favoured on the soft so watch out for soft ground whenever there’s a big field on the straight course. On faster ground, the draw doesn’t make much difference. Low numbers are best in big fields on the round course. Concentrate on stalls 1-8 in straight-course races on soft ground (eighteen runners), cross out the top six stalls when fourteen runners over the round mile and the top eight stalls with more than eighteen runners.
Established in 1789, this Grade 1 track has seen some champions pass through its gates and remains the “jewel of the North” in Irish racing. Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle won the Ulster Derby here, and five-time King George and two-time Gold Cup winner Kauto Star used to frequent the course in the early part of his season at the “festival of racing” meeting, which is becoming increasingly popular. A right-handed, undulating course which could be described as “galloping” given it is 1m7f in circumference, Down Royal presents a true test of a horse’s ability. The “Summer Festival” and the November “Festival Of Racing” over the jumps attract a big crowd and rightly so, as top class racing and top class facilities goes hand-in-hand with lots of people enjoying themselves.
Downpatrick is Ireland’s oldest course, with beginning here in 1645. The term “horses for courses” certainly applies at Downpatrick, a trappy right-handed course in County Down which has ups and downs and dips and curves aplenty and is a test for both horse and punter. It suits nippy and well-balanced horses who can jump well at speed, as if they don’t the contest can quickly get away from them. It’s quirks aside, Downpatrick is known to be one of the friendliest courses in the country and is set in a beautiful part of Northern Ireland. A strong racing community around here love their local track, where the calendar highlight is the Powers Whiskey Ulster National in February.
Dundalk is Ireland’s first and only flood-lit all-weather horse racing and greyhound track, Dundalk is now a vital part of the Irish racing jigsaw puzzle and it is hard to think that before 2007 when it opened, there wasn’t a facility like it – in fact, it is the only venue in the world which combines both horse and greyhound racing. Now, flat and some jump horses utilise the all-weather track for preparation runs where many courses may not have ideal ground or races, along with the course having a strong program for the poly-track specialists and regulars. The track is a left-handed, flat oval of 10 furlongs, with a 5 furlong sprint track adjoining the home straight. It is known to be a very fair course, if a little sharp off the home bend – but once they straighten up there is ample distance for any horse to put themselves in with a chance.
Home to the Derby and Oaks, Epsom Downs has been staging the former event since 1780 and it is generally recognised as the most famous horse race in the world. Quite probably the most unusual and testing Flat racing track on the planet, the twelve-furlong Derby trip provides a roller-coaster ride, most notably the turn into the most famous bend in racing, Tattenham Corner.
There isn’t much of a draw bias over the 5f course these days but there is over 6f and 7f, when front-runners drawn low have an advantage on all ground except soft (when the fields usually come to the stand rail).
Situated at the top of Haldon Hill, Exeter’s reputation as one of the stiffest tracks in the country is well founded. The standard of racing is above average, principally due to its location close to a number of powerful National Hunt stables and it has proven a particularly good track for stables to unleash some of their better novice chase prospects. With a friendly atmosphere and beautiful setting, Exeter attracts a knowledgeable audience and their highlight is the Haldon Gold Cup held in November.
The home of the Irish Grand National, one of the biggest tests of horse and jockey and a 250,00 Euro spectacle which is the highlight of a fantastic Easter meeting every year which boasts top class racing. So many great horses have graced the turf down the years here, not least the legendary Desert Orchid, who won the Irish Grand National here in 1990 off a welter burden of twelve stone. A dual-purpose course, Fairyhouse is a proper Grade 1 track. Just over 1m6f in length, it is right-handed with a fairly stiff uphill finish at the end of a three furlong home straight. Many a titanic battle has been won and lost up this strip of grass, and long may there be many more. For the race-goer, Fairyhouse is everything you’d expect from a course of its considerable stature and leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence.
Fakenham is a small, rural course that holds National Hunt meetings across the year. A sharp, left-handed track, this course definitely suits the nippy sorts that are sufficiently nimble to deal with corners and bends. A very popular venue with the locals, particularly the Bank Holiday fixture in April which attracts a decent-sized crowd. The going rarely turns heavy.
Ffos Las is the UK’s newest racecourse and has been something of a success story. A flat, fairly galloping left-handed course of around 1m 4f long, it hosts both national hunt and flat racing fixtures throughout the year.
As Ffos Las is a relatively new track, there is little data to go on. However, there have been no patterns to speak of, perhaps owing to the fact that the track is nice and wide and provides a fair test for horses drawn in most positions.
An extremely popular National Hunt track with more than a modicum of charm, Fontwell is one of only two racecourses run over a figure-of-eight circuit. Total refurbishment of all grandstands began in 1998 resulting in vastly improved facilities for racegoers. Punters are provided with the rare option of viewing races from inside the course, an up-close and personal encounter with the racing action for sure.
Put simply, the Galway festival is Ireland’s biggest annual sporting event. Much like the Melbourne Cup does in Australia, the Galway Festival brings the west coast and much of the country to a standstill as people flock to Ballybrit in search of experiencing something truly unique to Ireland. Galway races are evident all year round, but the seven day extravaganza which begins at the end of July, trumps the other meetings at not only Galway, but pretty much everywhere else in the country. The track itself is more or less rectangular in shape and is a sharp, right-handed course with a two furlong uphill finish. The Galway Hurdle is the biggest race at the festival is worth 260,000 Euro to the winner, although the Galway Plate isn’t far behind in terms of stature. Galway is a course to enjoy at any time but for the festival just take a day or two off – pull a sickie, do what you must, but at some stage you must go to Galway to experience the truly outstanding festival.
One of the most popular tracks in the country, Goodwood hosts numerous top-class races during the summer. The summer fixture, known as Glorious Goodwood, features five days of top-class action including the Group 1 Sussex Stakes amongst a clutch of pattern races and top-quality handicaps. The track is undulating and favours horses that race close to the pace, particularly on the round course as the field are racing around a gradual bend for much of the contest.
High numbers are best on the round course, especially over 7f and 1m, when the ground is fast. But when it rides very soft, jockeys tend to come over to the stand rail. A high draw has been essential in the Stewards’ Cup in past years, but often it also depends a lot on where the pace comes from.
Gowran Park is a top Grade 1 track in County Kilkenny and first held a horse race way back in 1914. The first televised Irish race was held here in 1969 and the course is best known for the Thyestes Chase. It is a right-handed course and is one mile and four furlongs in lengths, undulating with a run-in of three furlongs and an uphill climb to the finishing post. The Kilkenny and Carlow are is littered with many training establishments and this course centralises what can be described as “horse racing country” outside of the main spiritual home of racing in nearby Kildare. Gowran Park has great facilities for racing fans and fixtures run all year round over the jumps and the flat.
Based close to the premier training establishment of Newmarket, Yarmouth is never short on quality and many classic winners have used this course as part of their education. Provides holiday-makers with an ideal opportunity to combine a trip to the seaside with a day at the races. Being a flat track, galloping in nature, big, long-striding horses are particularly well suited to the test this course offers.
The course used to struggle with off-shore winds messing up their attempts at watering but, since they changed to a new system, the problem has gone, and there no longer seems to be much in the draw.
Hamilton is a small track that has witnessed many improvements in recent years and its meetings are particularly well attended. The going tends to be on the soft side during the early-season fixtures and runners generally stick to the far rail. Hamilton is just fifteen minutes from Glasgow and is a regular haunt for all of the top northern trainers.
High numbers tend to be at a slight advantage, at races over 1 mile 65 yards especially. Cross out the bottom six stalls when there are more than fourteen runners in races of up to 1 mile 65 yards.
Haydock Park is one of the finest racecourses in the country and the premier year-round track in the North. On the Flat, the highlight is the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup in early September whereas the National Hunt season features the valuable Grand National Trial, formerly the ‘Red Square Vodka’ Gold Cup in February and a host of other top-class three mile chases. Both courses suit the long-striding, galloping individuals, particularly when the ground rides on the soft side, which is often the case.
High numbers used to be favoured in sprints when the ground was good or softer, but low numbers now seem to have a decent advantage, especially on soft or heavy. Cross out all those drawn in double-figures in 18+ runner sprints on soft or heavy ground.
Set in the heart of Northumberland, just south of Hadrian’s Wall and 700 metres above sea level, Hexham is one of the highest tracks in Britain. A left-handed, undulating circuit, this track lends itself particularly well to locally-trained course specialists. The weather may not always be the best here but the stunning scenery more than compensates.
A tight, right-handed track with some tricky obstacles to negotiate, Huntingdon undoubtedly favours those horses that have the ability to lie handy. The Open Ditch directly in front of the stands provides a real speactacle for racegoers. The highlight of their season is the Peterborough Chase, a two and a half mile contest in November that attracts leading two and three-mile chasers. The course stages many excellent meetings per year. Another recently introduced race is the Mascot’s Grand National in September, a fun race designed for football club mascots in full costume which attracts plenty of coverage.
Promoted as London’s premier racecourse, a multi-million pound redevelopment programme was completed in 2006. Best known for its National Hunt fixtures, most notably the King George VI Chase run on Boxing Day, Kempton also stages many flat all-weather meetings throughout the year and is certainly one of the more diverse and busy tracks in the world.
The draw bias in sprints used to be predictable here, but things look like they may be changing again. Those drawn high could be at a disadvantage where the pace is fairly strong on the low to middle stalls. If your horse gets across early, there is no real bias.
Kilbeggan is located in Westmeath, in the midlands and the heart of Ireland. A town steeped in history, over time this track became the place for staging regular horse races given that until that point just after 1900, races were staged at various locations around Kilbeggan. It is a round course which is 1m1f long and quite sharp, suiting nippy horses that won’t get caught flat-footed and become outpaced easily. It is one of Ireland’s only jumps-only courses and is best known for the fact that most of its fixtures are evening meetings in the summer. Quite a trick, as crowds are ever-healthy at this time of year there – a warm, country track which is very much a part of the fabric of the Irish national hunt scene.
The current County Kerry course has been running since 1936 and is, without question, once of the most beautifully set racecourses in the world. Right in the heart of Kerry’s tourist epicentre, Killarney is a very scenic place indeed and its racecourse encompasses that natural wonder. There are three summer festivals at Killarney races, all equal in stature and competitiveness of racing. Both flat and jump racing is held around this fairly tight left-handed track which is just over a mile long. Killarney racecourse is known for its great hospitality, with restaurants providing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and many bars and places to eat and enjoy the races to boot. If you’re ever in Kerry on your travels, be sure to check if racing is on here at that time. Better still, organise your trip to ensure there is.
The very definition of a One-Hit Wonder is Laytown racecourse, which is not a racecourse at all but is in fact a beach in County Meath, which hosts just one meeting per year. It is a unique event which often splits opinion owing to safety concerns. But the restrictions now imposed means that races are held over 6f and 7f only, with field sizes restricted and only experienced riders are allowed to take part; despite the race-day’s respectful place as a fixture under the proper rules of racing. It is a hugely popular day, attracting thousands of patrons and curious first-timers each year. Provision wise, the jockey’s weighing room and other official spaces, and all of the bars and food outlets, consist of temporary marquees and stalls and the track itself is set somewhere by decision of HRI on the three mile beach, and once the tide is out, away they go. It is a truly unique event and the only officially regulated horse racing meeting held on a beach in Europe.
Leicester is a smart, dual-purpose track where all flat races up to one mile are staged on the straight course, which adjoins onto the fairly stiff but fair 1m6f main round track. Known for its ground conditions rarely relenting to excessive rain, the course suits those who enjoy a sound racing surface. Leicester is better known for its chase races and this particular course has ten fences, two open ditches and the regulatory water jump.
Leopardstown is undoubtedly one of the top three racecourses in Ireland, and one of the World’s top equine racing venues. Home to races on the flat such as the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, to National Hunt season highlights such as the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle and of course, the Grade 1 Lexus Chase over Christmas. A true test of the thoroughbred, Leopardstown is a 1m6f left-handed course with a fair uphill finish. This place is a must for anyone who enjoys top class racing and entertainment to boot. Leopardstown has seen some of racing’s greats engage in battle here, not least names like Galileo and Best Mate. It is a regular hunting ground for the mighty Hurricane Fly who continues to harvest the Irish Champion Hurdle, but its calendar of top races naturally attracts the very best horses, trainers and owners from around the world and of course a legion of die-hard racing fans who flock to experience the very best that Ireland has to offer in this sport.
Limerick opened in 2001 and is Ireland’s newest turf racecourse which has flat racing and national hunt racing taking place throughout the year. It is a modern and vibrant course, with fantastic facilities, worthy of staging top class racing and we tip it to achieve just that in years to come and become a Grade 1 course. A regular haunt for stag & hen dos, Limerick also hosts an increasingly popular “student race night”, which has been packed to the rafters for the last couple of years. The track itself is top notch – right handed and fair. In the winter months in can become quite heavy and testing, but invariably there is little excuse for any horse to not win its race here – if good enough!
Best known for its All-Weather meetings, Lingfield can also boast a quality turf track for both Flat and National Hunt racing. The regular All-Weather fixtures take place on Polytrack, a much faster surface than Fibresand used at Southwell and course specialists are commonplace. On the turf, Lingfield hosts two Classic Trials at their early May fixture, races that have recently given strong clues for the Derby and Oaks as the course is very similar in nature to Epsom Downs. The racing here is very popular with punters who have a thirst for figuring out the form of many an interesting contest.
There used to be a definite bias in favour of high numbers on the turf but recently there hasn’t been a lot in it. Over 6f and 1m2f on the All-Weather it is fairly safe to ignore anything drawn higher than 7, and low numbers are also best at all other distances. Even more so if there has been recent rain, when the surface rides faster. Cross out any runner drawn 8 and above in races of up to, and including, 1m2f on the All-Weather.
Seven days of the year Listowel comes alive for their version of Galway festival and it they do it just as well. Slowly but surely, this week long bonanza in September (became a seven day affair in 2002) is gaining traction amongst the racing community and indeed, curious fun-lovers from in and around the county of Kerry. The track is a fairly tight, mile long oval and is in close proximity to the crowd which ensures an intimate buzz on race day. A cracking venue which attracts all of Ireland’s top trainers, riders and owners.
Located close to the Welsh Borders, there can be few courses that offer a more relaxed feel to a day’s racing than Ludlow. The course plays host to National Hunt fixtures across the year but mainly in the season months which are attended by a strong, local presence. The quality of racing ranges from fair to useful and horses that race close to the pace are often favoured.
Market Rasen’s excellent reputation as a friendly venue is well founded and their summer jumping fixtures are extremely popular. The course caters particularly well for families with a creche at all weekend and Bank Holiday fixtures. One mile two furlongs in circumference, this undulating course is a decent test and many useful novice chasers can be seen learning their trade here.
Situated approximately eight miles to the east of Edinburgh, Musselburgh is ideally positioned to take advantage of the tourist market. The sharp, right-handed gradients tend to suit nimble, speedy types, a fact that is accentuated by the decent ground, which is a regular feature of meetings here. A dual-purpose, seaside course, it attracts the best trainers from the north and many from the south too – a real Scottish gem within the community.
High numbers are best over 7f and a mile, and over 5f when the ground is good or faster. But when it’s soft, low numbers are best over 5f. Concentrate on the top four stalls when 14+ runners over 5f (fast ground) and the bottom six stalls on soft ground.
Naas is situated in Kildare, right in the heart of Ireland’s racing scene and is one of the sterner courses in the country in terms of the test it presents to a horse and rider. Left-handed and undulating, the 1m4f track has a stiff uphill climb to the finish, placing a firm emphasis on stamina. The ability to stay a little further bodes well here. This is a popular course which attracts a high quality of horses consistently – indeed, the place has seen great champions like Imperial Call, Doran’s Pride and Arkle flash past the post in front of the Naas faithful. The course hosts summer BBQ evenings and family fun days to ensure people keep coming back for more, and over-all it is one of the best horse racing venues in the country.
Navan is a Grade 1 track in County Meath and racing was first held there back in 1920. Over the years, many a great horse has grace the turf, including hurdlers like Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca and the legendary Moscow Flyer. It continues to attract top quality horses owing to an ever-increasing hunger to stage top class races with great prize-money. Navan is a left-handed track, 1m2f long with a stiff uphill climb to the winning line, which has claimed many a horse that failed to last home. It races on the flat, but is far more renowned for its national hunt fixtures. Many of Ireland’s finest will race here on route to the big festivals in spring.
A top-class Flat and National Hunt track, Newbury’s left-handed, galloping course provides a true test of stamina, particularly in wet conditions. The highlights of their National Hunt season include the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup run at the end of November and the Betfair Hurdle, one of Europe’s richest handicap Hurdles, which takes place in February and is increasingly a springboard for live Supreme Novice Hurdle and Champion Hurdle candidates for the Cheltenham Festival the following month. On the Flat, the jewel in their crown is the Group 1 Qipco Lockinge Stakes in May. Newbury can also boast first-class facilities and a superb view of the whole track.
On the straight course, runners drawn low in big fields generally struggle, whatever the going. When there are twenty or more runners, look first at those drawn fourteen and above. Cross out runners drawn in single figures when there are more than twenty runners in races of up to a mile (straight).
Known locally as Gosforth Park, Newcastle provides a high standard of action under both codes. The Flat course with its uphill rise of four furlongs makes this one of the stiffest tracks in the country and the highlight of the season is undoubtedly the Northumberland Plate in June – a fiercely battled staying handicap. Over the jumps, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle which takes place at the end of November regularly attracts a number of the leading hurdlers in the country.
High numbers are best in straight races when the going is good or faster, but low numbers have an advantage in big fields when it’s soft. Concentrate on the top six stalls on fast ground and the bottom six stalls on soft or heavy – for 5f and 6f races with more than fifteen runners.
Known as the headquarters of British racing, Newmarket’s Rowley Mile course features a clutch of top quality events such as the 1000 and 2000 Guineas in early May and Champions Day in October. One of the fairest tracks in the world, racing at the Rowley Mile is divided into two seasons, spring and autumn, and only on rare occasions does the ground ride on the soft side. Racing switches from the Rowley Mile to the popular July Course during the summer months. The highlight of the season is the Darley July Cup, Europe’s leading six furlongs sprint, which takes place on the final day of the three-day July Meeting. The six evening meetings are amongst the most popular fixtures staged anywhere in the country.
The Rowley Mile course is very wide and the volume of racing here means that Newmarket move the rails on a regular basis to even wear on the track. No consistent bias can therefore be relied upon from meeting to meeting. When betting on races like the 2000 Guineas it is often helpful to assess the previous races on the day to give an indication of whether the position of the rails is having an effect on the draw. You need to watch the earlier races on the same day. The course is slightly inclined towards the finish so horses which go off too fast in the five or six furlong races struggle to make the distance.
One of the leading courses on the summer jumping circuit, Newton Abbot is England’s most westerly racecourse. With continual racing from the end of May through to September, the course has become a firm favourite with National Hunt enthusiasts.
A left-handed circuit, galloping in nature, Nottingham often attracts plenty of interest from the leading stables. A popular venue throughout the summer months, Nottingham plays host to several flat meetings each season and often plays host to some quality maiden races where some of the country’s top establishments will send their young horses to strut their stuff. With two long straights, the course gives the big, long-striding types every opportunity to use their size and scope to best effect.
Low numbers were miles ahead of those racing up the stand rail in sprints at early 2000 meetings, and the odd card will crop up here where one side is favoured. The best idea is to look at the latest results or of course find where the pace is.
Situated on the banks of the River Tay, Perth is Britain’s most northerly racecourse. Front runners have a particularly good record as the track is virtually flat and the tight bends play to their strengths. Fixtures are arranged to suit the tourist industry taking place between April and September with the highlight being the Perth Festival in late April.
A very sharp, undulating, left-handed track of one mile, one furlong in circumference, Plumpton provides a real test for both horses and riders. Based on a clay surface, the ground can become particularly testing during the winter months where its uphill finish often plays an important role in the outcome of races. Despite its sharp nature, the ability to see out a trip and battle is a must when the conditions are testing. The course is a traditional haunt, which has an old style pub with a seafood bar and a betting shop inside of it!
Set in West Yorkshire, Pontefract is one of the most popular tracks in the north of England and produces many course specialists. Being a stiff, undulating two-mile track, the emphasis is firmly placed on stamina in the staying races but front runners are ideally suited to this track in sprints where an inside, low draw is important.
Low numbers should do best here, purely because the course turns left all the way, but that doesn’t work out in practice. Indeed, high numbers are best when the going is heavy, as the ground on the inside rail soon gets chewed up.
Punchestown is a premier Grade 1 racecourse and one of the world’s finest. Why? Because it stages the best national hunt racing in the country and attracts the very best jumpers in Ireland, the UK, France and pretty much anywhere that can produce a good horse. The Punchestown festival is the highlight of the season in Ireland and arguably is the meeting which brings the curtain down on the NH season at both sides of the Irish Sea. The course hosts other key Grade 1 races, such as the John Durkan Memorial Chase and has seen countless champions pass through its gates. The hurdles course is 1m6f long and the chase course is 2f longer and in addition, Punchestown has Ireland’s only cross-country track which adds a unique dimension to an already unique venue. This place is jumping mecca, it attracts the elite of the sport, all fighting for their slice of a pie which boasts several million euros worth of prize-money each season. Long may it continue.
Redcar is a flat, left-handed course of 1m6f and plays host to some quality races throughout the flat season, including listed races and a £150,000 nursery race for 2yo horses. There are sharp bends, but there is a straight course now for races up to one mile. Redcar is a racecourse which attracts some of the better quality of horses and trainers around.
Set in the Yorkshire Dales, Ripon is an undulating course with a long five-furlong run-in that has proven a very popular track with locals and tourists alike. The highlight of their year is the Great St Wilfrid Handicap, sponsored by William Hill and is one of the leading sprint races of the season, which takes place during August. One of the most attractive racecourses in Britain, the course delivers a lively and friendly atmosphere ideal for families.
High numbers are definitely best in big-field sprints, particularly on soft ground. But when there are 15 runners or fewer, low numbers, who race nearest the stand rail, are favoured. Put a line straight through anything drawn 7-13. High numbers are just about best on the round course. Concentrate on the top four stalls over 5f and 6f with more than sixteen runners, and the bottom six stalls otherwise. Cross out all runners drawn between 7 and 13 in sprints.
Barring a few years during the Second World War, Roscommon has been racing since 1885 and now has Grade 2 status. Popular amongst trainers and jockeys, it has a reputation for being a fair starting point for young horses. Right handed and 1m2f in length, it has an incline to the finish and races are staged both in the flat season and over jumps. There are two 2-day meetings during the summer months of June and July which attract big crowds and create a lively atmosphere to back up some lovely views of the surrounding area for the grandstand. The track’s feature race is the 40,000 euro Grade 3 Kilbegnet Novices’ Chase in ran in September.
Widely regarded as an ideal track for the leading stables to introduce their better prospects, it is therefore unsurprising that this attractive racecourse pulls in the crowds. Although meetings are spread between May and October, there is a heavy leaning towards fixtures during the summer and the two evening meetings are particular favourites amongst the locals. Salisbury hosts relatively short distance races where the maximum trip will be 1m1f.
High numbers are definitely best in straight races when the ground is fast, but there’s not much in it on softer going. Concentrate on the top eight stalls in straight races with more than sixteen runners on fast ground.
One of the principal dual-purpose tracks in Britain, virtually all of Sandown’s twenty-six meetings feature top-class racing. On the Flat, there are a number of pattern races highlighted by the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse in July. The three evening meetings are also not to be missed. Over fences, the steeplechase course offers one of the most exciting spectacles in racing, particularly the Railway Fences, three obstacles taken in quick succession down the back straight. The Whitbread Gold Cup brings the National Hunt season to an official close on a day that also features pattern races on the Flat.
On the 5f course, high numbers are always best in fields of twelve or more runners, particularly on soft ground. In smaller fields, low numbers are best when the runners all stay up the stand rail. Pay close attention to where the stalls are positioned here. High numbers are definitely best over 7f16yds in fields of twelve or more runners, apart from on soft when the fields tend to come stand side in round-course races. Concentrate on: 5f: (stalls stand side) the bottom three stalls on soft ground when 11 or fewer runners, (stalls far side) the top three stalls on soft ground when 11 or fewer runners, the top four stalls when 12+ runners (particularly on soft ground), 7f16yds: only runners drawn in double figures when 15+ runners (apart from on soft).
Set in the tranquil Durham countryside, Sedgefield has built a strong reputation for a relaxed and friendly day out at the races. A tight track with fairly sharp bends, this is not a course that suits the long-striding galloper but when the ground is rain-softened, the steep, uphill finish rarely fails to come into play. Known for its Tuesday meetings, Sedgefield is an integral part of the National Hunt scene.
Sligo is one of Ireland’s lesser sung heroes – a small country track nestled into a beautiful part of the country with a stunning, mountainous backdrop and stages eight meetings a year across both flat and national hunt disciplines. Sligo racecourse is quite a sharp track of just a mile long, right handed, with a gradual incline to the finish. Racing here is competitive and popular meetings include the early August cards which often see some of the Galway festival die-hards continuing their celebrations onto this neighbouring county. The track boasts a spacious bar, an excellent eatery and snack bar and is great for close-up views of the racing action.
Principally known as an All-Weather track, Southwell also boasts a handful of turf fixtures under both codes. Laid with fibresand which rides deep, stamina-laden performers hold an advantage over their rivals and quite often American bred horses do well here. Although there is no jumping on the sand, the turf course attracts runners from many of the top yards. The hurdles used are temporary, removable units which provide a fair jumping test for novices and pros alike.
Low numbers are best over 5f. Cross out runners drawn in double figures over 5f.
One of the most popular country tracks, Stratford-on-Avon Racecourse attracts many visitors, particularly for the summer meetings. The highlight of the season is the two-day in June which features the Champion Hunter Chase – one of the season’s principal hunter chases. With a triangular circuit to navigate, the majority of successes are achieved by those horses that like to race up with the pace.
Taunton Racecourse is often dominated by the leading, local trainers especially Paul Nicholls who runs many of his good horses here. Being a course with two long straights and two sharp bends, Taunton plays to the strengths of handy types. A country track through and through, the venue is a very popular with the locals and exudes a friendly atmosphere.
A mile and a quarter, oval track, Thirsk most definitely favours those horses can lie handy as the ground often rides on the fast side and the course dips just before the final furlong. On this basis, big, galloping types who take longer to find their full stride are at a marked disadvantage. The Classic Trial in April and the Thirsk Hunt Cup in May are the two most significant races staged at the track.
High numbers are best in sprints on firm ground, but low numbers are favoured on good to soft or softer. Low numbers are just about best over 6f 216yds and a mile. Concentrate on the top four stalls over 5f on firm ground and the bottom four stalls on soft ground (14+ runners).
Thurles is a no-frills racecourse in county Tipperary which attracts a core of proper horse racing enthusiasts who enjoy quality, competitive racing at a firm but fair course. The track is stiff test, right-handed and undulating and there is no question that stamina and ability are needed in tandem to win here. Indeed, many champions have made this their happy hunting ground and the like of Native Upmanship and Rule Supreme both loved the place. On the flat, Melbourne Cup winner Vintage Crop won his debut race at Thurles and went on to achieve greatness. This is a course to keep an eye on the maiden races in search for future Graded race winners. The feature race of the season is the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase and invariably attracts a strong field. Flat racing occurs here, but Thurles is best known for jumpers.
The people of Tipperary are well-known for their love of all things sport, especially horse racing and the county is home to arguably the world’s finest racing establishment at Ballydoyle where Aiden O’Brien trains for Coolmore. Tipperary is a popular Grade 2 track which has been functioning from its current location since 1916. It used to be called “Limerick Junction”, owing to its literal location, but that name was changed in 1986. This place is a breeding ground for young talent, particularly from Aiden O’Brien’s stable which has sent champions such as High Chaparrel, Hawk Wing and Dylan Thomas here to race as 2yos. The track is known for a high-quality mixed (flat & jumps) card in October known as “Super Sunday” which attracts the best around and throughout the season there is consistent mix of Listed to Graded feature races. It is a flat, left-handed course with a 5f chute for sprint contests. Tipperary is a fair course where the best horse will nearly always prevail.
Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Easton Neston estate, Towcester Racecourse is one of the most picturesque racing venues in the country. Towcester is a course with high aspirations and has been the beneficiary of heavy investment to improve the racing experience. It is a stiff, right-handed course and is known to be one of the most demanding tracks in the land.
Located on the east coast of Ireland in the county of Waterford, Tramore racecourse is a Grade 2 rated track which plays host to both flat and jump racing throughout the year, including a festival in August which is the perfect way to spend a holiday by the sea and enjoy the four days, which includes three evening meetings. A popular course among the locals, its situation in a seaside resort habitually attracts the racing crowd from nearby counties and of course holiday makers from home and away. The track itself is quirky. Right handed and undulating, it is a mile long and has a sharp uphill climb to the winning line.
Uttoxeter has re-invented itself in recent years as one of the UK’s most progressive tracks, with the Midlands National Meeting in March attracting many top-class performers. Front runners often do well here given the twists and turns the runners have to negotiate. The course attracts some of the better stables and is a standing dish of the national hunt season.
Warwick Racecourse is a popular dual-purpose course which has racing through the year. The flat track is flat, left-handed and quite sharp despite it being 1m6f in length. Over the jumps the course is a furlong shorter and has a fairly short run-in of just over a furlong from the final obstacle. Being a diverse course it also has a 5f chute for sprint events and provides a platform for all walks of equine life.
There is not much of a draw bias on fast ground but when the going is very soft high numbers are favoured. This is because the ground on the inside rail gets chewed up and the outside rail rides faster. Concentrate on the top six stalls on soft and heavy ground.
The leading National Hunt track in Yorkshire, Wetherby’s two feature meetings are the early November fixture which features the Charlie Hall Chase and their Christmas Meeting that plays host to the Castleford Chase. This left-handed, slightly undulating track is a particularly good test for novice chasers and has featured a number of course specialists. A top class track and a stalwart fixture during the winter months.
Generally considered to be a galloping track, it is 1m4f long and right-handed and provides a solid test for the horses and riders. Usually attracting healthy fields under both flat and jump codes, Wexford is another of Ireland’s popular tracks and is situated on the east coast. The south east of Ireland is known to receive a lot more sunshine than the west, which makes for a happy hunting ground for racing regulars in the area. The course has great provisions for grandstand visitors and hospitality guests. This part of Ireland is renowned more for its many world class golf courses, but there is a strong feeling toward the racing culture too, and Wexford encapsulates that fact very well.
Although Wincanton does not have the same profile as the major National Hunt tracks, it offers a high standard of sport. Front runners are particularly well suited to the steeplechase course as the three fences in the short home straight, give hold-up horses little time to recover lost ground. The racecourse is particularly well attended on the Festival Trials Day in February and their Boxing Day fixture. Paul Nicholls does particularly weell here as it is a local track to his Ditcheat yard, but if your horse is good enough, bring it to Wincanton!
Set in 165 acres of beautiful Berkshire countryside and located on the banks of the River Thames, Windsor is best known for its lively summer evening fixtures that take place on thirteen consecutive Mondays. Windsor is one of only two UK courses with a figure-of-eight circuit and therefore it tends to play into the hands of the well-balanced, nimble individual. The course is becoming known for its quality of maiden race and indeed for a consistently vibrant handicapping scene.
High numbers are best in sprints when the ground is good or faster, but it’s the opposite on soft and heavy ground, when low numbers have a clear edge. Good to soft ground cancels out biases. Concentrate on the bottom seven stalls in soft and heavy ground sprints, cross out any runner drawn in single figures in fast-ground sprints with more than eighteen runners.
Wolverhampton racecourse been redeveloped into an exciting leisure venue providing over fifty fixtures each year. Meetings take place on the all-weather surface and the Saturday evening fixtures under the floodlights are particularly popular. A very tight, oval track, nimble, handy types go particularly well here.
The odd meeting will crop up where those who race wide are favoured but all stalls are okay; check where the pace is if you’re concerned about a runner becoming caught out wide.
Situated on the banks of the River Severn in the city centre, Worcester is one of only a handful of courses that offers racegoers the opportunity to witness National Hunt racing throughout the summer. Often used by trainers to introduce their better novice hurdlers and chasers, the course rarely fails to attract decent-size fields and therefore delivers competitive racing.
Known as ‘The Knavesmire’, racing has been staged over this turf since 1731 and is without question one of the most attractive racecourses in the world. The highlight of each season is the prestigious three-day Ebor Meeting in August which features three Group 1 races. The Dante Meeting in May, also over three days, is another immensely popular fixture featuring a mix of classic trials, pattern races for older horses and top-class handicaps.
Runners drawn very high and very low struggle in big-field sprints here, but the biggest draw bias lies over 1m2f85yds, where any runner drawn high in a big field faces a near-impossible task. Concentrate on the bottom seven stalls over 1m2f85yds in races with more than fourteen runners. Cross out the bottom four and top four stalls in sprints with eighteen runners or more.