In Alphabetical Order
Ascot - Been fortunate enough to attend a Ladies Day in June but more importantly, did my damnest to help home Lough Derg in a January 2011 handicap hurdle. Lucky enough to be invited as the plus one in a private box on Ladies Day where I was introduced to members of the Durkan family (Analogs Daughter). Irish Racing Royalty. I did my best not to sound like a blithering idiot. A lot of people present in the box didn't have a clue how to bet, so I ran a small school of instruction. Could have done with a whiteboard. Food and service fantastic. Somewhere down there, later on, Yeats won a Gold Cup. Enjoyed the bandstand bit. All that TV coverage of ladies in their finery coming in at 10.30 a.m., but they don't show them at 6.30 p.m. being helped out well drunk on maybe one shoe. Ascot is a racecourse built solely for five days in the year. Huge escalators. And there are great contours on the straight Flat track if you get the chance to get that low.
For NH racing, with a crowd of maybe 3000, unfortunately, there's more atmosphere in a cave. The NH track is inside the Flat one and the big screen is inside that again. The pride of the Pipes only finished third that crisp January day despite my distant exhortations. We were in the stand four floors up, so I felt about 250 yds from him when he finished. However, being there makes you believe that stiff climb all the way up from Swinley Bottom. Lough Derg always seemed to relish it. I raced down the escalator just to see him in. Like Newbury, IMO, Ascot is one of the few NH courses probably served best by watching TV at home.
Ayr. Industrial. I have been there to watch a Scottish Grand National and an average Saturday Evening Flat meeting. Most Nationals become Zoos after a couple of races (see Fairyhouse) and Ayr is no exception. But sat down with a pint in the enclosure and found another chap on a similar attendance mission to my own. Race meetings are full of nice people who like to chat. The Ayr entrance is not inviting and the other stands needed at least a lick of paint. Sharp track. Easy enough to get to from Belfast with Larne Boat/train. Won't rush back. Very decent hotel just beside it.
On our 25th Wedding Anniversary I convinced Sheelah of the merits of a few days holiday down the west coast of Ireland. Luckily the trip coincided with Ladies Day at Ballinrobe on the 25th June 2013. (We were actually married on the 24th so it's not as bad as it sounds). Treated her to a decent racecourse dinner in a lovely track. Well laid out facilities, with a square and filled bookmakers ring. A mixed card with three hurdles to finish. Sharp track about a mile round, easy to view. Delightful company. I know how to treat a girl.
Bangor wasn't a highlight (we're not off to a great start). Seemed a strange spot to drive to as you come through some middle-class housing estate. Very flat course but with good banks from which to watch. The finish is a problem as you are standing at right angles and it's impossible to make a judgement. The parade ring is fine and I found staff very helpful. Sorry, but not keen on that Bangor/Chesterbet thing. It seems a con for unknowing punters. We left and thought just 'ticked off'. John Parrott was there though. Didn't mention my favourite ever sports headline. 'Snooker - Davis Stuffs Parrott.'
Bath - Car rental from Bristol Airport one May day for an evening meeting. Horrendous weather and Bath Racecourse is right on the top of a hill. The highest UK course above sea level. At noon, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Luckily things improved by 5pm. Left-handed track, they run down the far side. turn the corner and then it's a very steep four furlongs right to the finish. Always on the slight turn as they climb so low numbers in sprints tend to have an advantage. Not as steep as Pontefract but not that far off it. Roger Teal, a trainer with a decent record in the sprints here. Crowd obviously small. Bijou parade ring in a nice spot. Low class flat. Friendly folk. I could only find one bookie's shop in Bath City Centre. Might say a lot about the conservative population there.
Dan has a pitch inside at Bellewstown and also delivers to the caterers there so sometimes I can be early by a couple of hours having brought the van down from Belfast. Racing on top of Crockafotha Hill since 1726, it says. It's high up, mixed racing and keen on eight racecards, even before COVID. There are normally 4 days in July and three in August. Late afternoon starts. Saturdays tend to be NH. It's a sharp bumpy crack, usually decent sized fields. a holidaymaker's racing. No chases. In my opinion, the bookmakers standing outside in the carpark have more success than those inside. We find it a punter's paradise. Pleasant parade ring always with tidy hedges. Bellewstown always renowned for Barney Curley's Yellow Sam coup and the famous telephone box still remains there. Always serves decent Guinness, I've found.
Steve took a table at Carlisle, the restaurant has great views of the racecourse which flows away down the far side. Course close to the Town Centre. Food and service were excellent. Television once again flattens out that huge climb back, very reminiscent of Towcester. Well worth a visit just to see it. No wonder they are tired, after the back of the last. Backed a couple of winners, Crossbow Creek won at Ludlow. In those days we had a Times Tipster Rob Wright theory. He was top of the tipsters table and his outsiders seemed to oblige at the away fixture for some reason.
Went to Cartmel with Steve on a Sunday in May 2017. I liked the drive on the narrow roads until I found myself behind a horsebox meeting a caravan. Arrived an hour early thinking there would be a lot more traffic. Seems that the locals arrive about 4 hrs in advance to claim their individual named picnic sites right on the edge of the racecourse. Looks great. A prerequisite for Cartmel would be a sober driver as none of the picnickers seem that keen to leave quickly after the last. We had fun trying to find the best viewing position and agreed on the little stand behind the 'main' stand. You can see about 40% of the action but, like Bangor, you will be at right angles to the finishing line. Well positioned big screens in this quirky layout. Great views of the countryside. Liked it. Will return.
Steve and I returned to Cheltenham for the Festival in 2017. Been going there since 1985. Very impressed with the new layout and walkways above the parade ring. We hurried in at 1030 each morning and settled ourselves in the sunshine at the seats outside the See You Then Bar. Had a couple of Guinness and chatted to friends and whoever strolled by between then and 1230hrs. Watched the racing from the lawn at the third pillar down from the rails in the Club Enclosure. That bit was packed for the Supreme Novice Hurdle but we found that it easy viewing for the rest of the races, even the G1s. Impressed with the organised exit speed from the car park (unlike Sandown). Food outlets are always busy. It is strange to watch circa 50 people queueing for burgers just as the horses leave the parade ring for the Champion Hurdle. Surely if they have made the trek, could food not wait? In November 2017 we went to the BetVictor chase weekend we found that in front of the new Princess Royal stand provides an excellent view of the racing. You are standing half way between the last and the finish line. If a close finish, large screen just in front of you. For the easiest access, come in from the top of that stand. I remain in awe of the place even though it is 35 yrs since my first visit. The Festival Programmes are well presented and worth the money.
Went back to Cheltenham for December 2018. That weekend where Storm Deirdre took over and it would have foundered you. Frodon won the big handicap chase with a handicap of 164. Love Frodon. Waited, frozen, at the bottom of that walkway after Bryony Frost would have been interviewed by ITV when circling at the top. Hardly a sinner with me. At she went past I applauded and said 'Well done, Bryony, he's a machine.' Got a nice smile in return, she taps him on the neck and says, 'Do you hear that, you're a machine.' Well, to hell with cash, my day was made, you couldn't faze me last night. My chums hardly made it out of that plush members bar all day. Gave them some stick for being fair weather NH fans. Finallg got round to doing hunter chase day in May 2019. Unfortunately the fields aren't as strong as they used to be for that event. Think that they need to increase the prize money.
Worth visiting Chepstow if only to see the contours of the course and the views of the mountains behind. Breathtaking. The start for the 7 furlongs seems to come down from the sky. The jumps course is downhill to the finish and there is a very sharp corner when they are going round again. I hope facilities have improved since October 2014 as we found everything very tired with no local brews or delicacies that I could find. An inviting entrance but inside the staff bored and unhelpful in the bars. And it wasn't a big day. Possibly as a result of having a lot of racing all year round? But such scenery. Nice article in programme about Persian War. Shotgun Paddy and Sire de Grugy won races that day. NH quality never too far away when you attend any meeting in South Wales.
Went to the Chester Cup in May 2016. I was looking forward to this. Since I had just driven from a day out at Brighton races, I admit to being tired but I did feel that Chester disappointed a little. Liked the walkway underneath the track which gives you access to the inside. Laughed a little at the first-floor glass viewing area for the footballers and entourage. We could watch them watching the racing. There were no seats in Tattersalls on the entrance side obviously to cram as many as possible into the bars. The lady at the entrance couldn't work the till and got quite annoyed that I hadn't bought a ticket beforehand. It was more expensive to get into Tatts at Chester than the Club Enclosure at Newmarket 4 days earlier to watch Minding win the 1000 Guineas. The programme was overpriced at a fiver with too many ads. I bought a steak pie for £7 but was told if I wanted a spoonful of gravy (or jus), 'it was a pound extra'. I was looking forward to seeing the Roodeye track but because of the marquees in the inside of the track, in Tatts you saw no horses until they appeared at the right-angled bend 3 furlongs out. And it really is a right angle. If going again best views are either high in the Silver Ring or definitely on the walls outside the course. Hard to believe. Wifi and 4G seems to be blocked except for the sponsoring bookies. And then there is Chesterbet, a Tote with another slice taken of it. A local said to me, that 'they would charge you to breathe the air, if they could.' For me that day, not value. Or much fun.
It's a 450 mile round trip from Bangor to Clonmel but did it in December 2014. Good viewing NH track. Unlike Hexham or Limerick, where you look down on the course, at Clonmel all seems to play out above you. Steep climb up the hill after the winning post, they run across the top, downhill with a steep enough finish. Facilities hmm, let's say, rustic a la Thurles. Programme with full Racing Post form, so pretty good. JP McManus owned two of the winners, Charlie Swan trained another and the sun shone. Glad I went.
Couldn't really recommend Cork on Students Day Easter Sunday. Five deep at every bar all day and no chance of getting a drink. However there is masses of space to watch racing at a very flat track, (think of a right handed Newbury). A lot of space around the parade ring and an easy track to access. On His Own strolled home in the G3 Imperial Call Chase. In my experience Cork folk are nice to chat to.
Went to the 1992 Irish Derby at (The) Curragh and watched St Jovite stroll home. Crowded, lost money, and didn't like the way the sprint races seemed to start around the back of the grandstand. That was before big screens. Easy to get to, out the Naas road. Never felt the need nor interest to return but I believe it's all different now and a far better experience. Even with the whistling grandstand. We will have to go and report back.
One of my local tracks, Down Royal won Irish Racecourse of the Year in 2017. A well organised venue. Dan and I stand at Pitch No 12 on the same line as Sean Grahams. It is mainly a flattish right handed track about 1 mile 6f round with a slight uphill gradient to the finish. The big G1 chase meeting in November is the jewel in the calendar. Ted Walsh praises the fences. 'Have to be jumped.' Always busy especially in November and Friday nights during the summer. There are no empty pitches. New edition recently is a large marquee for all, in case of rain. I enjoy working there. Hard to believe but the new 2019 management team led by Emma Meehan has improved the facilities and attracted more punters. Well done. The racing is always competitive and bookies tend to do better there than at Downpatrick where G Elliott and W Mullins sometimes just farm the maidens/novices/bumpers. I have a great view there from my stool at the line nearest the course. Recently the track has provided decent large screens for people to be able to watch the horses when they are on the far side. Only about 1m 2f round, Downpatrick is very much a switchback course. Do watch for Colin McBratney horses in handicaps. The hill in the final 2 furlongs is fierce. So fierce in fact as they go into the dip before the final climb they go out of sight to all of us close to the finish. That doesn't come across on TV. A bit like Tramore. If going, be advised that Downpatrick town itself is a shocking bottleneck for traffic, especially on a Friday afternoon. A fun track well managed by Richard Lyttle. My mother Maureen loved to go. Richard didn't know us from crows but on her final visit, she had a great view from the corner table in the restaurant. I'm sure he was busy but he came to make sure she was fine. A small thing that my family always remember.
Trip to Exeter in December 2013. A crisp winter day. I'm aware that people rave about Exeter but for me, it was impossible to see half the course. When they do round the corner and into the dip, it's TV coverage only for a mile at least. It's seemed also hard to get up any height to look back at the fences in the long straight. Major Malarkey won the 4m Devon Marathon for the Twiston-Davies team and there were winners for both Nicholls and Henderson but it left me underwhelmed. Ticked off.
Been to Fakenham twice, and would love to return. It has been said that James, my son, was only permitted to attend the University of East Anglia at Norwich as people knew I had to tick off both Fakenham and Great Yarmouth. On the coast, it is a delightfully square racecourse, a mile round, if you get my drift. A fence or hurdle in each of the quarter-mile straight bits. Decidedly uphill little finish. Lovely rustic parade ring and plenty of delightful local fare for sale in the fish stalls. The racing is never high quality but you nearly feel that to be incidental. Recommended, even if Derek Thompson is in the commentary box. ('That's close!' No, it's not, Derek) In 2014 we took a table on Gold Cup Day, the final leg of our Alternative Cheltenham Week (Sedgefield, Huntingdon, Towcester). Cracking day out and a good view from the balcony on the first floor of the restaurant in the Prince of Wales stand. HRH is Patron of the Course. Tote windows were slow. Fujin Dancer won the Class 3 feature for the second year in succession so horses for courses. Some of the table backed Lord Windermere there to win GC, so obviously happy memories.
Went to the 2017 and 2018 Hattons Grace days at Fairyhouse. First weekend in December, the day after the Ladbroke/Hennessey at Newbury. One of the big pre-Christmas Irish racing days and usually not busy. I really recommend it. Easy to get to from the north, great car parking and simple access and exit. Three Grade 1s. In 2010 it was a privilege to witness Hurricane Fly settle a Hattons Grace from Solwhit in about three strides. The Fly and Simonsig are the NH horses with the fastest acceleration that I have ever witnessed. The parade ring at Fairyhouse is intimate and easy to get close to winning connections. Always get my Injured Jockeys Fund Christmas cards there, that day. Good viewing track. Went one Easter Monday to the Irish National. Unlikely to return. The place is just not big enough for that number of people.
Ffos Las. August 09. Was working at Tregaron Trotting, left at 4 am to leave Dan off at Bristol Airport then right along the M4 to Ffos Las's first-ever big NH day. There are lots of roundabouts in Llanelli. Ruby won the first on Carsonstown Boy and Backstage took the 3m £31k feature handicap chase. A big round 2 mile flat Newbury type racecourse. I think I was lucky enough to be at one of their biggest days. Long way to go but should attract more Irish runners than it does. Plenty of space to watch. Fine, fresh facilities.
Folkestone's penultimate day's racing was on Tuesday December 4th 2012. Chatted to Steve Mellish of RUTV fame in the bar. Friendly chap as were all the staff even though the stands had the smell of death about them. A very pretty tree filled, parade ring, a flattish right hand track with a long finishing straight. More Of That won a maiden hurdle that day as the 25/1 third favourite of seven. That was nice. Hard to believe that AP got off him that day to ride some fancied Greatrex beast, never heard of again. Did look a bit sheepish as Ritchie McClernon jogged by on the winner adorned in JP's silks. More Of That remained unbeaten until winning the Stayers 15 months and 4 runs late, once again not chosen by the Champion Jockey.
We didn't use the main entrance at Fontwell in November 2015 but parked on the far side and walked across the course. Always one I wanted to visit as I had difficulty working out from the TV how the figure of eight jumps course worked with the hurdle track. The trick is that the TV cameras make it look as though there are two different finishes. There weren't. Very pleasant staff both inside and out. The finish is a nasty little stiff one right under the camera. At a lower level there is the attractive parade ring behind the stands. Decent winning bet on Arquebusier that day. Sadly I now realise he was steered home by James Banks.
In 2010 Dan and I started to work the Galway Car Park on the Wednesday and Thursday of the Festival. Then you might have had 15 bookmakers out there, each trying to steal a few hundred a day. In 2019 that was down to four pitches. Expenses are low and if the weather is good, you will have families who don't want to pay to go in but want to have a picnic. It's a great view of the racing. TV once again doesn't do justice to those weird last two fences in the dip followed by that steep climb to the finish. Horses for courses, I think. Well worth the visit, Big crowds but traffic and access well controlled. But don't come in a camper van, as we discovered. That type of vehicle denied access. I'll let you work out why!
The September day in 2012 that I attended Great Yarmouth, Derek Thompson got a hold of the mike early as the paddock commentator and never let go of the thing. He ended up interviewing himself, I think. A Flat, flat track which does have its bumps and borrows. Riponish, in that they go down one side and back up the other. Tidy, well looked after facilities. Clean parade ring and very helpful car parking staff. For the holidaymakers. Freddie Tylicki rode a good winner in a fillies stakes race, their season's highlight. I suffered five races and left.
Robin kindly took me to Gowran Park for the 2011 Thyestes Chase. Beautiful tree lined parade ring, the bend past the finishing post going back out to the country is very sharp. A la Killarney in my opinion. Robin and other friends owned Selection Box trained by Colin McBratney. The Box was a wonderful trier of a horse. At his best he was rated in the low 130s and won the syndicate over £67k in prize money. In the Thyestes that day, he went off at 25/1, raised the excitement by going third about 4 out before fading and finishing a very respectable 7th of 18th. W Mullins won the Galmoy Hurdle with Mourad. Plus ca change.
One of the most pleasant UK parade rings is to be found at Haydock. Well laid out with a great selection of trees. It's a sharp track, flat and I liked standing there, looking at the horses parading. Facilities aren't huge but the fences used to be. You can get a great view from about a furlong out. Sort of like Wetherby in that it's also easy to get to. Went to Red Square Vodka Chase day in 2005. The programme included an interview with owner David Johnson (RIP) The is oval-shaped, about a mile and a half round with a run-in of usually 400 plus yards. Need to stay. The feature was won by Forest Gunner with another favourite, The Bajan Bandit, also successful. A lovely day.
Attended Hereford's (allegedly) second last ever day in December 2012, the second leg of a two-day doubleheader with Folkestone. Nice to see that Lydia, Steve and Jonathan from RUTV making the same trip. And very pleasant people to chat to, they are. Alan King and Venetia usually farmed the place. AP rode a double. It's about a mile and a half round, flattish and facilities were a bit spartan. Like Hexham, you're on a height, looking down at the course and the housing estates beyond. Lots of tarmac between you, the bar, and the course. Steve, who was driving, is a diehard Newcastle United man. Wasn't keen to be going near Egdar Street, the scene of Ronnie Radford's great 3rd rd FA Cup strike against the Toon all those weeks ago. It was fun when the satnav took us right past the ground.
I strongly recommend a visit to Goodwood. Space and seats for everyone. 'Glorious' is right. Again TV does a disservice to the contours and the hills. Got a bus up from Chichester. Was present for King's Signet winning the Stewards Cup under Willie Carson on the 1993 Saturday. What a spectacle in such a beautiful venue! Unknown to me at the time the 6f start is hidden from the crowd. But when these sprinters appear over the hill, wow, what a sight. I would love to go back. And I'm not a fan of the Flat.
Love Hexham. Steve's local course, we have been attending meetings since 1990. Only NH there. Used to really enjoy those Tuesday evenings in May. Remember Ronnie Beggan retiring one night after he rode his first winner there, completing his full set of UK courses. Our last visit was an alternative Cheltenham Festival date. Thursday 14th March 2019, queued to get in first, then ran up the stairs to a good table with a panoramic view of the course. Over imbibed, as is our wont, carried home Bryony on Frodon, Paisley Park. Went outside to watch all the Hexham races. Panoramic like Chepstow, it is one of the best viewing courses in these islands. There is a low grade 4 miler held every March. Oliver Sherwood brought Weststreet up from Lambourn to win the £7k prize by a sh hd. Beautiful sunny day, heavy ground in a time of 9 minutes 22 seconds. Marvellous finish to watch back. What else would you want? Leading trainer stuff in the programme, and cards for away meetings. You'll not go too far wrong, looking out for Lucinda Russell or Brian Hughes.
Kempton - Even in 2008 the facilities were tired. The course is very flat and does look as flat as TV would suggest. We were invited to a corporate day out for the Racing Post Chase that year when Robin was working with the owners of the newspaper. Gungadu won. Nice outdoor bit on first floor from which to watch racing. Jonjo O'Neill, Tom Segal and Lee Mottershead were at our table. Pricewise had to sit beside me, the poor man. Gentlemen, each and every one of them. Shouldn't have done it but interrupted Mick O'Toole and Sir Peter O'Sullevan for autographs. We partied a bit too much. Even got laughed at in the car park by the actor James Nesbitt, whose Riverside Theatre took the bumper. Being from Coleraine, at least James could understand our accents.
Drove to Kilbeggan on a warm summer's Friday night in July 2015. Easy to get to along the N6 before Athlone. Good pitches for Brian Keenan and family and you can see why they like it. But wasn't a great evening to be a bookmaker as 4 favs and two jt favs obliged. It was Midland National night won by Ravished at 7/2 fav, owned at that stage by Gigginstown, trained by Mouse Morris and ridden by Paul Townend. Easy car parking and bunged but not uncomfortable numbers. Sharp turning track, that corner on the far side seems tight to navigate. Will return.
Drove the five and a half hours to Killarney for an evening's NH in May 2015. A surreal town full of horses and carts and big buses of Americans saying 'if it's Monday, we must be in Ireland.' Went for a drink in a bar to find of the 15 or so there, the barman and I were the only people from the island. Was told I had a strange accent. Moving on, there is no course in Ireland with a more panoramic view. Killarney is flat and sharp, lovely hedges around the parade ring. Not a lot memorable about facilities. Ravished, the 5/2 fav, took the Killarney National for Mouse Morris and Gigginstown. Maxine O'Sullivan got up close home on a 33/1 shot from Jane Mangan in the bumper. Two good jockeys there.
I do like the way that Laytown is created for one day every year from absolutely nothing. The bookmaker Terry Rodgers was the driving force behind saving this one day early September meeting after the furore of horse deaths on the round circuit. You can see why Terry saved it. A holidaymaker's special and a friendly day out. The racing is basically six and seven-furlong low grade bumpers on sand when the tide goes out. Each horse carries 10st plus. One of the very few courses left where there is a queue of bookmakers trying to get in. We tend to scrape into the five strong overflow line but if it clashes with Listowel we get into the main ring. With little or no form to go on, anything under 4/1 is usually too short and every bookie present should then be able to steal at least a monkey. Plenty of English and even American visitors. The view from the hill isn't too bad. As is the ice cream.
Met friends at Leicester in December 2013 before driving to a Friday Exeter meeting and then Sandown for the Tingle Creek. Sounds mad, now. Plenty of space for low grade NH. Big stands and a nice parade ring. Walked out to the final hurdle to see that the chase course seems a good 2ft above the line of the hurdle. The ground would obviously be then drier. Always wondered why there are often two different 'goings' for hurdles and chases. Also the hurdles seem to be cemented in. That's why they aren't any bumpers at Leicester. Black and white programme suggested difficult to make ends meet. Traffic getting out of Leicester horrendous.
Leopardstown is a great racecourse and probably Ireland's premier. Stiff fences. Been fortunate that Eugene spoils me with tickets for that splendid second-floor bar and seats on the upper tier. Must remember not to stand up and cheer a winner home as the people behind can get very cross. If you go down one floor, there is an excellent spot to watch the parade ring before and after each race. Great view of Faugheen returning at the 2020 DRF. Try to bet with the Keenan family. Fair, honest bookies in the ring who don't shy from taking a decent one. The buses in and out of the big car park are an excellent idea. Always plenty of people but plenty of space. Why do the lady sweet sellers outside Irish racecourses always sell big tubes of Toblerone?
Lingfield NH November 2015. It's called 'leafy' Lingfield and you can see why. Easy to get to, pleasant surroundings, enjoyed the day. I was impressed that even with so much AW racing, the facilities looked in a lot better shape than, for example, Chepstow. The programme a bit of an ad filled disappointment. There is a little hill on the far side, but IMO to compare a Derby trial here to Tattenham Corner seems a trifle odd. Our claim to fame here was to see Venetia's Jessbers Dream in the parade ring before the Mares Maiden hurdle to be run on heavy ground. Looked at least a foot taller and a bit broader than the rest of them. So we backed a winner on parade ring inspection! Can't think of another one I've done. Ever. It went from 5s to 9/4 do we obviously weren't the only ones.
Limerick - A fine viewing track now, one of the best in these islands. The lawns are higher than the track and the finish is a lot more uphill than given credit from the TV views. Great car parking and easy to get to. Nice square bookies ring. Liked Limerick. Will return.
Dan needed a form expert? to chat with a business guest at Listowel so I got a lovely chance to go to the 2011 Kerry National. After parking you cross the river to get to the turnstiles. The locals love it and bookies come from all over Ireland to attend. Busy. Programme very basic but the food was fine. First race was at 2pm so plenty of time to entertain. You get that mixture of flat and NH with the big feature, a sort of lessor Galway. Very flat course, not a bump on it. Decent finishing straight. What A Charm completed what I would suggest is a rare double of a Listed 1m4f/Fred Winter hurdle. Interesting that he won the 29k euro prize at Listowel just six days after having been moved from Arthur Moore's care. Alfa Beat took the feature becoming the fourth horse to win it twice. A fine front running ride by Barry Geraghty on ground the horse should have hated.
When I thought this task might be possible, Steve and I used to cover 4 or 5 at a time. One of our most pleasant days was at Ludlow in Shropshire. Entry staff couldn't be more helpful and there are great five foot tall Armitage Shanks urinals. Something you rarely see. David Ashworth on his Racing Post tour gave the best urinals award to Market Rasen. Well, I've been at both and the massive Armitage Shanks at Ludlow definitely gets my vote. Amazing what stays in your head. Always decent racing for a small track with good prize money. Said hello to Evan Williams who was very polite. The track is a flat rectangle with the shorter sides at both ends. Ludlow has fantastic views of the racing. You are able to climb up in the stands to higher than the TV cameras and see everything totally unrestricted. Recommended.
Market Rasen - Only been the once in June? 1993 when Adrian Maquire and Richard Dunwoody were going head to head for the Jockeys Championship. We raced there from Newcastle. Adrian was (I think) four behind before the start of this, the final meeting of the season. Adrian took he first two races but couldn't keep up the momentum and Richard held his advantage. He seems surprised to hear a Northern Irish voice congratulate him when Adrian could no longer catch him. Lovely sharp track but it's a long way to Lincolnshire. Saturday night summer NH bunged with people. There should be more of them.
Was invited as a guest to Naas 27th January 2019 to see Ballyward beat Chris's Dream in the G3 three-mile novice chase. The place has come on buckets since my last visit in 2016. Well spruced up, comfortable public areas, great hospitality from the Racecourse Chairman, Mr Dermot Cantillon amongst others. Eugene gave out prizes and was entertained as a sponsor by Mr and Mrs Willie Mullins. Kept pinching himself. (When I go on these days with him, I do worry that someone's going to ask me, 'and who again are you, Mr Gault?) Deceptively steep finish in the last two to three furlongs. Great new Owners Circle stand. Look forward to returning. A big screen for the grandstands would help to bring folk in, force them out of the bars, and add to the atmosphere. Watched Espoir D'Allen win the G3 from Wicklow Brave (both RIP). Eugene and I sagely agreed that 'Espoir won't win the Champion Hurdle this year. Only a five year old.'
Said hello to Dave Yates, Mirror's Newsboy in February 2020 at Navan as we both tried to judge if Tiger Roll had recovered from his injury. Been better off backing Cracking Smart next time out ew in the Coral Cup. Boy, it was cold that day. Tony Keenan says 'it's the only racecourse where you need two coats.' But there are lovely indoor fires in the bars. I was supporting #goracinggreen and met Debbie Matthews and her family. They were treated royally by racecourse management, presenting prizes, best turned out etc. Big round track, devilish finish, especially in the mud. They have to 'stay' at Navan.
For NH racing, Newbury is not a favourite of mine.. A track that is far better served by TV than most. Flat as a pancake, 2 miles round making the famous Cross fence about a mile away from where I was standing. The National Hunt track is inside the summer flat track and the big screen is inside that again. On non-premier days, you can get up high but you are a long way from the action. Not quite as bad as Ascot, but close. I attended Strands Of Gold's Hennessey and other days, and on each occasion would have felt more involved sitting in my living room. Facilities are fine, all car parking is inside the course and unlike Sandown, plenty of help to get in and out. Loads of space. A perfect venue for social distancing.
Went to Plumpton on a Monday, as you do, a Racing Welfare Charity day. The Guinness was off which was slightly disappointing. However, the journey through East Sussex from Gatwick was lovely and we received a warm welcome. Sharp track with another decent uphill finish. Easy veiwing, a fair crowd and the bookies have a great spot just in front of the main stand. Local fish stalls jellied eels et al, to be recommended. The programme is worth the money with Timeform 'through the card' page and even a review of the previous raceday at the track. David Pipe's Kings Palace won the bumper by half the track. Liked Plumpton.
In May 2017 I did the Cartmel/Pontefract double. Wouldn't say that the town itself is totally inviting. The course itself has a lovely majestic entrance with plenty of grass and trees. Nice new parade ring. The stands themselves facing the course are a little bit tired. The Course is nearly two miles round, the last 6 furlongs are straight uphill. Something I didn't realise from watching RTV. Also the English racecourse with the longest circuit. Need a hardy animal to win there. Nice touch from the course to provide a transit to take people down to the 5f or 6f start so that they could see the sprint starts close up. Couldn't do enough for you. That offer was very popular with disabled racegoers. Well done. Backed Ms Paige Fuller in the last to win at a big price. Nice summer's day. Nothing not to like.
Eugene spoils me with corporate hospitality at the Punchestown Festival. Likes to have me entertain guests with my knowledge of NH and betting. A little bit worrying as the bank's guests didn't get their money by being stupid and most know well their NH and how to invest a few quid. Even own a few, like the fine David Bobbett and family. So far, I don't think I have offended too many. It's big, plenty of room, obviously a more relaxed atmosphere than Cheltenham. Things don't seem to matter as much. The hospitality is right beside the final fence. In 2017 stood five yards from Coneygree, Sizing John and Djakadam, all in the air together, their last jump. Something special. When you go to Punchestown on other days, like Ascot, you see that the facilities are built for those 6 days. Stiffish climb to the finish which also continues as they pass the stands going out into the country. Plenty to see and do at the Festival. Privileged to have been standing at the parade ring when Ruby retired after winning the Gold Cup on Kemboy.
Salisbury was the second half of the two-day May trip after Bath. Very pleasant drive to a country racecourse. Delightfully, it seems to be in the middle of a forest. Nice seats outside the main bar to study the form. Local ale. As with a lot of UK courses, a really stiff climb to the finish with TV can't illustrate. One of those courses where the 1m 4f plus races start in front of the stands and run back down the straight before coming back the same way. Very pleasant day from which I wasn't keen to leave, even if it was Flat racing.
On my honeymoon in 1988 found myself at Sandown to see Mtoto scrape home in a Coral Eclipse. (She was keen, then). Good views, good facilities, plenty of consumer stands to indulge yourself, easy access to parade room. Lots of noise. As you would expect, everything is compact and busy at Sandown. Returned for the 2013 Tingle Creek won by Dodging Bullets. Things hadn't seemed to change much, great to watch them jump those Railway fences. And enjoy that steep finish. Two hours to get out of that carpark in the middle of the course, mind you. Would like to return for a NH meeting on a less busy day.
Sedgefield - Opening Day of our 2014 'Alternative Cheltenham' when Steve and I watched the Festival on successive days from here, Huntingdon, Towcester and Fakenham. Madness, I know. Sedgefield is small, easily accessible and I liked the way that it goes up and down dale. Huge car park. TV cameras don't do justice to the contours. Sayers farm the place. Horses for courses here, I think. They come downhill fast in those last three furlongs. The most memorable moment was standing beside Steve as he (on his own) not so quietly helped Western Warhorse home at 33s in the Arkle. Yes, I've no idea why, either.
Sligo's a great drive through Enniskillen and is one of the most panoramic racecourses in Ireland. A great view of Copes Mountain, I believe. Apart from the parade ring everything else is on a slope and TV does not do justice to the tight turn past the stands, the run down the far side and the Tramore style climb to the flat finishing 3 furlong straight. Horses for courses, methinks. The bar and food is basic fare but it's a busy track full of Northern bookmakers. Good viewing track and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Kylecrue took the feature 20k Guinness Hurdle.
Didn't know what to expect when we went to NH at Southwell on a Sunday in December 2014. For some reason I didn't think it would be in the countryside. It is. The facilities are obviously used constantly for all weather as well but in no way did I think them tired or scruffy (unlike Chepstow). Comfortable seating to peruse cards. Staff were very pleasant. The track is about 1m 2f round and as flat as a pancake. Low grade chases and hurdles with winners for both AP and Richard Johnson. Programme wouldn't have won any prizes but the racecourse did what it said on the tin.
In 2017 I returned to Thurles to take in the Kinloch Brae won that day by Sizing John. The last time I was there was 1978 and to be honest, I don't think they have done that much to the facilities since. There's plenty of corrugated iron in this family-owned racecourse. The lady serving coffee thought I was mad to do a day trip from North Down. This course has a lovely view and seems very fair with a nice little uphill finish. You can see why top trainers bring young horses to it. Apart from Sizing John, races won that day by Al Boum Photo and The Storyteller. The feeding facilities for racegoers are a touch primitive but I really liked the intimate parade ring where you could overhear Jack Kennedy briefing Gordon post-race on The Storyteller, Eddie O'Leary congratulating Jessie on Sizing John 'the horse deserved it', Willie talking to owners. I also seemed to be the only person in the stand cheering home Realt Mor at 25s in a handicap hurdle. Keith Donoghue is a fine horseman. What was not to like? David Ashworth, from the Racing Post, in his tour of UK and Irish Racecourses rated Thurles in last place of them all. I think that very unfair. The place exudes a warm welcome and Kinloch Brae Day always has good quality racing. And they don't rip you off. Excellent programme with full Racing Post form. I look forward to driving back in less than the 39 years.
I digress. A punting lesson learned at the Thurles meeting in 1978. Paul, Robin and I were on a student jolly in the South. Watched the West Indies at Rathmines and then off for a day's fun at Thurles. Very little money. Betting in single punts. Just before the bumper, Paul said that he fancied an unraced one from a small stable, a horse called Baby Isle. Price 10/1. Was going to have a tenner on it, a big enough bet in those days for students. Might have bought you eight, maybe nine pints then. I asked him how much he was behind. He said 18 punts. I suggested that he have 2 punts on it with the theory that if it won, he would be clear and if it didn't, it was just another small loss. He thought for a moment and then agreed. Yes, Baby Isle led from the start, never saw another horse, and won hard held by 20 lengths. Paul then chased me around the car park. Has never forgiven me and even though he very rarely bets, he has never forgotten the name of that horse. From 1978. I have never advised anyone since on the size of their bet, not even Robin when he had a 'hefty' to win four Risk Assessor in a Cheltenham four runner novice chase. Not as lucky that time.
Towcester was the third leg of our March 2014 Alternative Cheltenham week. What a beautiful spot and a great racecourse. In my view, it was between it and Carlisle for the steepest finish in England and Wales. Plenty of space, the facilities were excellent, the views second to none. Great grandstands and the bookies had lovely spots to stand on the tarmac. We couldn't understand the Hesketh 'free entry' business plan. I would have had no problem paying £10 to £15 to get in. Full Cheltenham runners in the programme along with a review of the previous racing at Towcester. A real loss to racing when it closed. As sadly, is Liam Treadwell who rode Venetia's winner in the first. Miss Williams was top trainer there, at the time.
Tramore - Along with Brighton, a most idiosyncratic racecourse. Really sharp and really up and down dale. Steeper climb to finish than even Downpatrick. You must visit this one, TV will never do it justice. In the 2m 5f chase, the fence in front of the old stands is jumped 4 times! That makes that chase course 7 furlongs round, as sharp as Chester. You would have to say that it made Al Boum Photo look pretty adaptable. Lots of bookies present which would suggest a place for results. In April 2015 it definitely needed more than with a lick of paint, the programme needed help but a course that both my son James and I enjoyed immensely. Think it has the smallest parade ring in these islands. Great views of the sea. A de Bromhead winner, naturally, and two winners for Andrew Lynch, a jockey for whom I had a lot of time.
Went to Uttoxeter for a Midlands National after a four day Cheltenham Festival in 2014. Possibly a little bit unfair to judge it after being on the lash for the guts of a week. However we thought steeply priced to get in and they didn't seem to care how many they crammed into the members. Became a zoo, early. Bit like Chester in that this is a big day for them. Lots of marquee tents inside the course which blocks all views from where we seemed to be able to access. One of those racecourse programmes that you buy and immediately feel a mug. Full of Betfred ads and very little racing detail. N Fehily rode the first three winners and Pricewise tipped Goulanes, the 13/2 fav big race winner after scoring nul points at Cheltenham. A seven-race card, we left after five. Never been that keen to rush back.
Wetherby - Sharp National Hunt (and now Flat). Nice parade ring and easy to get to as it's right beside the A1. Went to see a Charlie Hall Chase many moons ago. The 3 mile hurdle and chase starts were right in front of the stands so very easy to see your selection before they set off.
Wexford is a decent drive from North Down but easy to get to off the N25. Like Clonmel the programme is a direct take form the Racing Post. No problem with that. When I went in 2014, they had yet to reverse the running. It is now left-handed with a sensible uphill finish as opposed to being right-handed and fly down the hill. AS Ruby says, 'better as a stayers track than a speed track.' Again, facilities wouldn't be Prestbury Park but I was well catered for. Bookies right in front of The Supporters Bar. Parade ring at the bottom of the track close to the restaurant. The November Tuesday I went in 2014 featured Vroum Vroum Mag, Tombstone, and Domesday Book in the fields. Easy viewing track.
Wincanton - My chum Gary lives no more than a beagle's gowl from the course so we have been more than once. Really like it. Flat as a pancake, Well spread out. The bookies do seem to be a long walk away from the stands for some reason. In December 2012 they were having a big charity auction for Racing Welfare. Always decent quality racing and I like the way they serve Badger Beer Ale. Part of my one-person campaign for all racecourses to serve local alcohol or local dishes. Would boost the tourism aspect of the day out. P Nicholls obviously farms the place. Know it's a rarity but Top Wood 11/4f was placed in a handicap hurdle that day in 2012. Probably better known for winning the Aintree Foxhunters under Miss Tabitha Worsley in 2019 and being placed in Cheltenham Foxhunters 2018 and 2019. Don't you just love good NH horses?
When I went to (Royal) Windsor on the 2nd May 2016 it was the day after watching the muscular Minding skate away with the 1000 Guineas. So it was a little difficult to get excited about average Flat fare. The parking was easy with a lovely stroll down to the very flat, figure of eight racecourse. Train times in the programme for those travelling into London. Also Timeform views of each runner which was helpful. Morando won a maiden and has since become a decent stayer. Because the track is tiny, 1m 2f is the longest race. It starts in front of the winning post and heads out. Really liked the tree-lined pre and parade ring round the back of the main stand. Jockeys had to walk through the small crowd to get to their mounts. Food stalls also a little bit different. Didn't see Matt Chapman.
Wolverhampton - Dan and I have stood at Dunstall Park for trotting racing. Nicely laid out, the hotel is right on the course, 50 yds away. Track is about a mile round Trotting is usually run on half-mile circuits so on all-weather tracks it looks so slow. But they do like to punt. Staff couldn't be more than helpful. Trotting races there each October. A good night out. 50 mins from Birmingham Airport.
Worcester - Have to confess about Worcester. Went to a Saturday evening meeting in July 1990 and my memory tells me it was flat and sharpish with tired(ish) facilities. AP won at least one race, unsupported by me. My big memory was coming to the track by barge down the Severn. We moored up very close to the course. Found it hard to believe seeing an angler every 10 yards on both sides of that river, for what seemed a very long way. A strange sight. I know the course has been flooded at least once since 1990 and facilities have been completely revamped. Steve and I plan to return.
Love York, my favourite high class Flat racing track. They make everything easy to watch and unlike Chester and Ascot, seemed to make you feel welcome. Great viewing track and a lovely town. Always excellent racing. Have promised myself to return for the Ebor meeting and I haven't promised myself to return to too many other Flat tracks. Maybe Newmarket July, but that's about it. Used to go often when I worked in Harrogate and always an enjoyable day out.
Wealth Warning. Any decisions made (or not) or the basis of any information in this site are the sole responsibility of the reader. There is no obligation on me to follow my own advice. I take no responsibility for (but am keen to hear of) any factual errors. (Bgault01@gmail.com, @gaultstats). Previous years ‘stats on stats’ would suggest we may identify a decent priced winner from manageable groups every three or four races. It is believed that Savello (2014 Grand Annual) took from Golden Chieftain (2013 3m hcap chase) the record for breaking the most stats in a race. Stands now at 8. Cole Harden equalised with 8 in the 2015 World Hurdle. Remember, after you have cursed/laughed at me and given up totally on trends, they will come back to bite. Always happens. Usually on Gold Cup Day. Beware GO SEA - Groundless Optimism Syndrome Encouraged by Alcohol. A Cotswold condition very common at this time of year.