Five under-rated UK racecourses

We look at five of the best 'small' racecourses.
We look at five of the best 'small' racecourses.

After asking our Twitter followers which racecourse they think is the most under-rated, and receiving plenty of responses, we decided to put the same question to five of our contributors. Here are their picks...

The most under-rated racecourse for me has to be Wetherby. Situated just off the A1, its an easy course to access and once you’re there you’re certain to be treated to some top-class racing.

Known as the premier Jumps venue in Yorkshire, it’s a hotbed of northern National Hunt talent with stars such as Definitly Red, Lady Buttons, Top Ville Ben and Sam Spinner frequenting the course. It also holds some classy races, such as the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase, the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase and of course the Charlie Hall Chase, a Grade 2 event that for me signals the start of the Jumps season proper.

The views of the track are near faultless from any vantage point, meaning it’s possible to follow your horse for the full circuit (granted, binoculars may be required when they’re at the bottom of the back straight), although the Premier enclosure offers faultless views and leaves you within a 15-metre-radius of the Marston Moor bar at any given moment…

The parade ring is also presented perfectly, with a raised viewing area that is easy to access from the grandstand/betting ring. The staff are incredibly welcoming and helpful which really helps make your day at the races memorable, and the introduction of Flat racing in 2015 means we can now enjoy the course all year round! It’s well worth a visit if you’re yet to make it there. - Joe Tuffin

Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse, Ripon is situated just on the outskirts of the city, and I can’t recommend a visit highly enough. I’m not alone on that thought either, with it being voted ‘Best Small Northern Racecourse’ three times since 2011. The course itself is a perfect size to allow for a good atmosphere to be created without a large crowd with a choice of being on the inside of the course with space for a picnic, or in the stands that give you excellent views of all the way round the track.

The racing itself isn’t bad either, hosting the Great St Wilfrid handicap every August, as well as other events, such as Ladies day, Gentleman’s evening and Family Days, making it accessible for anyone wanting to experience racing. The track can have its share of hard luck stories for anything over six furlongs but always attracts decent size fields that make for entertaining racing and interesting punting. The listed Two-Year-Old Champion trophy has been won by some smart sorts in recent times, too, with a number of southern powerhouses making the journey up to try and take the prize.

Personally, I can’t think of a better racecourse to spend a summer's evening at, with good racing and a lovely backdrop - what more could you ask for? - Alex Stearn

Newton Abbot
While Newton Abbot isn’t able to compete with the likes of Cheltenham, Newbury and Sandown Park in terms of quality of racing, it certainly makes up for it with its brilliant facilities and spectator entertainment.

One of the flag-bearers for National Hunt racing in the summer, the Devon track attracts strong crowds for each of its 19 meetings, and has a real holiday atmosphere to its racedays – especially during the school holidays.

With many families heading to the West Country for their summer breaks, Newton Abbot does a terrific job to attract them to the racecourse, with kids’ entertainment offered in the centre of the course as well as a gated children’s play area, while those racegoers attending solely for the equine stars have a superb experience offered to them as well.

A spacious viewing area around the paddock, racegoers can easily see the horses warming up for their exertions on the track, while a short stroll to the stands to watch the action means an afternoon or evening at Newton Abbot can serve up a leisurely day out for those young and old, so that is why it is one of the most under-rated racecourses in the country.  - Steve Chambers

If you’re unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I was only ever going to provide one answer to this particular question; it’s undoubtedly Cartmel. There’s no place quite like it, not least because it’s one of just two British racecourses (alongside Chelmsford) which has its entire grandstand in the centre of the track. It makes for a nice feeling of inclusivity, and unlike at most other racecourses where the family enclosures tend to be on the in-field, at Cartmel you get a pleasant mix of a family atmosphere combined with the more serious racegoer.

Admittedly, you’re unlikely to see a Cheltenham Festival hero or heroine as far as the racing is concerned, but at the same time the standard is improving each year. I’ve been going for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a pleasure to see the course progress from being one which would hold just four meetings on Bank Holidays in the mid-nineties, to having an annual nine-fixture calendar which includes a £40,000 contest.

The lack of a bona fide roof to shelter under on the grandstand means that you’re always rather at the mercy of the elements, and the contentedness of the racegoer hinges on a sunny forecast, but there’s something fabulously British about watching the stiff upper lip in full force as dads light up their BBQs in torrential rain, and on the rare occasion that the sun does come out, it’s glorious. A pre-racing tipple in the quaint village of the same name next door adds to its charm, and in the betting ring, you’ll never be too far away with £2 on anything with ‘Teescomponents’ in their name. - Nick Seddon

Depending on whether you go racing for any number of reasons; be it leisure, family time, punting or because you work in the industry, means that we all look for different qualities in a track and what it can provide for us on a day out. 

As a trainer, my horses are my priority. I look for tracks that provide good ground, are not too sharp, provide good facilities for the horses such as stabling and hot water and give the horses a sensible racecourse experience without stressing them out with loud music or huge inappropriately-placed crowds of people.

Some of my favourites are Carlisle, Chepstow, Huntingdon, Ludlow and Wetherby, but at the top would have to be Hereford. When racing stopped at the track in 2012, it looked as though it would turn into little more than a glorified point-to-point course…nothing happened for four long years and given my Herefordshire roots, I missed racing there more than most.

In October 2016 the course reopened, and this coincided with my first season of training. Fast forward to 2020 and we now have a thriving track which is the subject of continual innovation, with Managing Director Rebecca Davies at the helm. 

Hereford provides good grass-roots racing. It is a super track to introduce horses to their career, and it brings racing to a wider audience within the county. It is well run and is definitely one of the most underrated tracks in the country. - Kerry Lee

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