Events and Meetings
Typically, a horse race will not be held in isolation, rather there will be a whole schedule of other races to be run and some of the bigger meetings can span several days in and of themselves (such as the Cheltenham Festival). A day at the races can be tremendous amounts of fun, and as well as the races, there are often plenty of other things going on to keep you entertained (I once went when the track was hosting a cider festival and a Wurzels tribute act were doing a show – doesn’t sound great, but trust me, the combination of the two was awesome – got the ciders in first though obviously!).
Where to go
In the UK, there are over 60 racecourses spread out all over the country, so you should have no difficulty in finding somewhere to watch, even if you can’t get to a specific event. If you go to the resources section, you can find profiles of some of the major courses in the UK, but to find the nearest course to you, the best place to check is the Racecourse Association’s Postcode Search Page. This will give you a list of the nearest courses to you, plus a link to a page of contact information for those courses. You can also check out upcoming fixtures here.
Finding a race
The bigger courses don’t have regular meetings, but the smaller ones do. For the main events, including famous meetings such as The Derby, or Royal Ascot, we’ve put together several profile pages in the resources section, where you can find out all the key information and background that you’ll need (UK horse racing events).
Once you take a look, you’ll see that racing meetings pretty much carry on all year round. However, because of the softer ground needed for National Hunt (jump) meetings, these are held during the wetter winter months, culminating in the Gold Cup at Sandown on the last weekend in April. By contrast, firmer ground suits flat racing much better, and as such, the main events (such as Royal Ascot) are held in the summer months, with the “season” finishing in October.
Useful things to know before you go
Some courses impose a dress code. Usually, there are different requirements, depending on where you are planning on watching the race from. The top tier, in the members club or similar will usually require you to be dressed smartly (either jacket and tie for men, or a dress for the ladies), but you can go to some areas in whatever you like – best thing to do is to check before you go with the course or on their website.
There are also things that you may find useful to take with you when you go.
- Comfy shoes – There are usually places to sit, but whenever I’ve been, I tend to spend most of my time standing up, and it seems that everyone else is as well (I defy you to keep seated if your horse is in contention to win the race!)
- Cash – It’s a racecourse not a bank – so it will be easier for you to take whatever cash you may need with you. This is good in two ways; firstly you will avoid those pesky cash machines that may charge you to withdraw your own money, secondly, if you limit your gambling budget before you go to what you have in your pocket, you should (hopefully) not end up taking out your life savings to bet on the next race
- Coat/umbrella – Large parts of the spectator areas are exposed to the elements – part of the experience until they build an indoor racetrack – it’s unlikely to happen though, so best take a coat and/or umbrella, particularly in those winter months.
- Binoculars – not essential, and it’s not going to help you pick out any winners, but sometimes, it’s nice to be able to see what’s going on. Courses can have big screens to watch the action on, but it’s not guaranteed.