Course Thumbnails A-F

On one of the racing forums there has been a debate about the relative merits of our various racecourses, having been to every UK course on at least three occasions I’m probably in a good position to compare them.

So here is the first of a three part blog with my thumbnail sketches of our racecourses, welcome to racecourses A-F.

(If I happen to annoy any racecourse managers – it’s nothing personal, I’m just giving my personal assessment)

Aintree

One of the courses known to non-racing fans. A massive site it has a buzz at the national meeting but at the other meetings it has a forlorn feel as when only 5-6,000 attend they seem lost in the vast acreage.   “Ladies Day” at the National meeting is one of the most terrifying  experiences known to man.

Viewing of the Mildmay course is good but terrible on the National course, even with industrial strength binoculars.

Visit the National meeting once to experience the place, otherwise best avoided. 4/10

Ascot

Controversially redeveloped I was one of those initially anti the changes, now I’m probably its biggest fan.

The amphitheatre parade ring has to be amongst the best in the world, even Longchamps.  

Viewing is good, especially if you have Premier tickets. It can be oppressively crowded at the Royal meeting though and it isn’t that cheap, although they do have a free day in the spring.

The racing is generally  of a good quality.

It can get boozy and intimidating at some of the big meetings. 9/10

Ayr

Ayr is a funny course. They have spent vast sums of money refurbishing the inside of the stands but externally it looks tatty. It’s another of those courses where there is a buzz on the big days but can feel quite forlorn on the quieter days.

Viewing of the racing is good but for me it’s a “take it or leave it” course.  4/10 

Bangor

The course which famously does not have a grandstand, which isn’t a problem on a nice sunny day but a big disadvantage if the weather is inclement.

Viewing is from sloping banks and, unusually, the finish is down the side of the course relative to the enclosures.

Having said that there is a good atmosphere and you can see the racing.

It would be a lot better if it switched from left to right handed  and have the finish in front of the enclosures but that’s being picky.  7/10

Bath

The highest course in the country and don’t you know it as it is almost always windy there. It also had no irrigation system so the word firm invariably appears in the going description, although with some fantastic turf management they manage to take the sting out of the ground.

To me it’s a schizophrenic course.

The midweek meetings can be a real delight with moderate crowds and a good atmosphere. Weekend meetings can be hell on earth with boozy coach parties descending from across the Welsh border,where the course can be overcrowded and intimidating.    Midweek 6/10  Weekend 2/10

Beverley

It has to have the narrowest enclosures in the country which can make the place feel more full than it probably is.

It usually attracts a decent crowd, even mid-week. It can get a bit lively at the weekend meetings. A good honest to goodness course. 6/10

Brighton

In days of yore it had a seedy reputation thanks to Graham Green’s Brighton Rock and it has to be said it still has a seedy feel to it. The Grandstand has certainly seen better days. There are some stunning views from its hilltop position with the Channel below.

It is also the only track with a housing estate in the middle of the course. It attracts good holiday crowds but I would only call it an OK type of course.  5/10

Carlisle

I think Carlisle is an underrated course. The topology does mean there are a couple of areas where racing cannot be seen with the naked eye.

It has an excellent, testing, jumps track and I prefer it as a jumps rather than flat course. The one “disadvantage” is it is located in the wettest part of the country which can result in testing conditions for both participants and racegoers. 7/10

Cartmel

Cartmel can be a marmite course, you either love it or hate it – me I love the place.

In a beautiful setting the atmosphere is fabulous. OK the racing is moderate and there isn’t a single point at the course where you can see all the action but that’s not the point.

The crowd are in the centre of the course and the prime pitches next to the fences soon go well before racing.

Set in a delightful village it’s the place for a perfect day out 9/10

Catterick Bridge

What I would call a “bread and butter” course and that isn’t meant to be derogatory. The racing is moderate but there is a knowledgeable local crowd. It doesn’t get overly busy but there is generally a good atmosphere.

For a good no frills day at the races it is hard to beat 6/10

Cheltenham

The home of national hunt racing and its setting in a natural amphitheatre is one of the best in racing.

Home of the Festival it can also be a frustrating meeting with big queues everywhere, especially on Gold Cup day and moving around is difficult almost impossible at times.

It is a much more enjoyable experience at the other meetings, some of which can have racing as good as the Festival itself.

It is a course every NH fan should visit at least once. 8/10

Chepstow

It was once my local track and I was a frequent visitor but it’s a course I’ve never had a strong affection for.

The undulating straight track means viewing is terrible and it is a course which has a reputation for being boozy and having something of an edge.

One I wouldn’t be too upset if I never visited again. 3/10

Chester

I’m probably going to ruffle a lot of feathers here but I abhor Chester and if it were to close down tomorrow I would not shed a single tear.

The course itself is so tight many results are decided by the draw rather than ability, although that would not bother most who attend as they don’t seem interested in the racing.

The course seems to be frequented by patrons who are more interested in pouring as much booze down their throats as they are in watching the racing.

I have long said they could stage three legged donkey races at Chester and 90% of the crowd would be none the wiser.

It’s the most expensive over-prices course in the country but amazingly they still manage to sell out most meetings. 0/10

Doncaster

Doncaster is, in my view, the Cinderella of courses – it has so much potential but it’s not allowed to achieve it.

There is a brand new Grandstand but with what is effectively a woods in the centre of the course, viewing is very restricted for round course races.

Being part of ARC prize money is kept to a minimum and that results in generally moderate racing. Take away the St Leger, Lincoln and possibly November handicap and there isn’t much left.

It’s a shame as with some serious investment in prize money Doncater could become the premier track in the north. 6/10

Epsom

An anomaly of a course. I often say if Epsom applied to be a new course today it would never be granted a licence by the BHA with the nature of its track, yet it is home to, arguably, the most fanous flat race in the world.

Built on common land they have a problem that people can watch racing for free in the centre of the course.

The Derby meeting is a fantastic experience, especially on The Hill. Sadly other meetings lack atmosphere and quality. 

Epsom have moved to the concert format which means they can charge 35 admission and then put on absolutely dire racing. Derby Meeting 8/10 Other meetings 4/10

Exeter

What I call a locals course and a course which can attract some decent runners. Unfortunately being high on a hill it also attracts swirling mists which can ruin a potentially good days racing.

Having said that an enjoyable course to visit. 7/10

Fakenham

Unless you happen to be a local the course is miles from anywhere. However wherever you do live the course is worth a visit.

Compact it always feels busy and although the crowds are only around the 2,000 mark it always feels fuller.

The course has a strong, loyal local following – it must be the only course which seems to have more members than paying public. The crowd is knowledgeable and welcoming and I would call Fakenhan a proper NH grassroots course. 9/10

Ffos Las

If Fakenham is the most difficult course to get to in the east then Ffos Las must hold the same accolade in the west. It seems to take forever to get to, even once you leave the M4.

Facilities are basic but the course itself is good and viewing is good.

Mobile phone signals are hit and miss at the course. 6/10

Fontwell

I’m going to have to declare an interest here – this is where I first attended a live meeting.

Fontwell is quirky with its figure-of-eight chase course but, for me that adds to its charm. There are fewer better placed to watch racing than in the centre of the course in a chase at Fontwell.       

Another course with a good local following, if I could only go racing at one course this would be the one. 10/10

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