5 years, 10 months ago
Giddy up, giddy up! It’s time for the gee-gees!
No idea, what I’m on about?
A short history of horse racing in the UK
Brought to the British Isles by Romans over 2000 years ago, horseracing reached its peak in popularity in the 18th century. The establishment of the The Jockey Club in 1750 provided a national body to watch over the sport, an organisation that still exists today (it’s now more elucidatedly called the British Horse Racing Board). So protected is the legacy and pure breeding of racing horses, even today all modern thoroughbred horses can be traced back to three males or “sire” horses. With the royal family incremental in founding a number of races and owning a number of winning horses over the centuries, it continues to be one of the current Queen’s favourite past times.
The Grand National may already have been and gone but the horse racing season in the UK is just getting started with a number of race meetings coming up to tempt seasoned fans and attract new audiences who want a taste of Britain’s second largest spectator sport.
Here are a few highlights of the horse racing season in the UK.
Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot
Arguably the most famous of all the British racing meets, Ladies’ Day is the highlight of Royal Ascot, held at the Berkshire racecourse and founded by Queen Anne in 1711. Taking place on the Thursday of this five day long meet in June, Ladies’ Day coincides with Ascot’s most prestigious race, the Gold Cup. As much a celebration of big hats and fashion as racing horses, recent decades have made going to Ascot an entertaining day out for friends and families, and can easily be reached from London in less than an hour.
The Epsom Derby
credit: Mike Freedman
Another event regularly attended by Her Majesty Elizabeth II is the Epsom Derby. Located atop the rolling hills of Epsom Downs and with an impressive view of London to the south, the Derby is again much more than a horse racing meet with lots to do inside the spectators’ area. Inaugurated back in 1780, there used to be a fun fair during the event but this attempt to attract more people to the race seems to have worked, as there’s no longer any space for the rides and this isn’t just because of the large hats on show on Ladies’ Day on the Friday. The Epsom Derby is also the race that other famous meetings, think Kentucky Derby and New Zealand Derby, have taken their names from.
The annual Glorious Goodwood meeting beginning at the end of July may not be as big as Ascot or Epsom, but it is much more scenic thanks to surrounding views of the rich greens of the Sussex Downs and in particular ‘The Trundle’, a flat hilltop that has been used as a fort and settlement since the Iron Age. You’ll find many people heading there to catch a view of the racing at Glorious Goodwood for free; there are even bookies there waiting to take your bets. If you ever visit the cathedral city of chichester, make sure that Goodwood is on your itinerary.
Ebor Festival, York
The North of England’s most popular horse racing event is Ebor Festival, held at the end of August at York Racecourse. Again an event that is as much about socialising and having a day out with the family as it is watching the race unfold, Ebor Festival has been pulling in the crowds since 1843. If you do find yourself in York for Ebor Festival, be sure to save some time so you can visit York Minster and the Jorvik Viking Museum, always very popular with kids. If you were wondering where the name Ebor comes from, it’s an abbreviation of ‘Eboracum’, the Latin name for York.
Various at Newmarket
credit: Kristine Tsiknaki
Often referred to as the headquarters of British horse racing, Newmarket Racecourse is host to several meetings throughout the year and ends the season with a number of events in October. With two racing courses on offer, and home to the National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket is a must-visit if you have an interest in the sport or want to learn more. Even away from racing, Suffolk market town is a great place for a day out and boasts some great opportunities for shopping too. Don’t be surprised to see jockeys and trainers walk pass you in town as it’s home to some of horse racing’s biggest names.
Have you ever been to watch horse-racing in the UK or abroad? What tips do you have for getting the most out of a day at the races?