While Yorkshire folk may be famously miserly when it comes to opening the wallet, it is also true that they like a flutter on the often futile pursuit of a winning nag. So with nine acclaimed racecourses on their doorstep, they are truly spoilt. A day at the races has increasingly become a magnet for corporate hospitality, celebratory away days, stag and hen parties and even a romantic day out for a couple. That said, with most courses allowing under-18s in for free into any enclosure on any day, courses are also wisely tapping into the family market.
There is no pressure put on anybody to bet if they don’t want to. However, all racecourses have their own ‘tote’ betting system inside the stands as well as the individual track-side bookmakers. These wily individuals generally offer slightly better odds, and despite what may appear to be a slightly daunting experience, the act of placing a bet is very straightforward. Winning on the other hand, is an art I’ve yet to master.
Home of the St Ledger; the world’s oldest classic race. The St Ledger Festival in September attracts crowds of 20,000 plus and there are often after-race live events such as Madness, who played at the course last year. This course holds a mixture of flat and national hunt (jumps) races and being close to the station and indeed the Robin Hood Airport, is particularly convenient to get to.
At two miles long Pontefract is one of the longest courses in the country, and holds 16 meetings of flat racing between April and October. Famous for its ‘Family Sundays’, the course, which is visible from the M62 and walk-able from the town centre and rail station, allows picnics and cars into some enclosures. With an uphill home straight the course is also known to be a particularly testing one, for horses and punters.
Known as the ‘Garden Racecourse’ for its picturesque flowers and grounds, Ripon is a small course holding 16 flat meetings between April and September, but does have the only permanent giant screen at a British course. Anyone wanting to make a few days of it also has Fountains Abbey, Brimham Rocks and Lightwater Valley nearby.
The leading national hunt course in the country, and indeed the only course specialising in the jumps in Yorkshire. Adjacent to the A1 and set in 300 acres of park and farmland Wetherby is a great traditional course with tonnes of free parking. With the national hunt season running from October to June, however, check for postponements for some meetings due to the weather.
The biggest and most regal course in the county is undoubtedly York, with a 60,000 capacity and an array of great facilities. Although a long-ish walk from the station, the 350,000 visitors in 2012 suggest a day at York Races is unrivalled in the social calendar, and probably has been since the first race on the current course in 1730.
Visitors to the 300 year old Beverley racecourse can enjoy a mixture of old and new with the extended and modernised facilities. The course, which is one mile from the town centre and has seven different bars, stages 19 meetings and has a number of themed events such as ‘newcomer race days’ for the uninitiated.
Another course that has meetings all year round for both the flat and national hunt seasons, Catterick is located just off the A1, and enjoys old and new surroundings within its mid-17th century construction. If you are staying for the weekend, the Sunday market also takes place on the race course.
Yorkshire’s seaside and most-northerly course is in the Tees Valley near Middlesbrough. Holding 18 meetings between April and November, the course is famous for being perfectly flat and perhaps more predictable, and hence is a favourite with the punters.
In the heart of North Yorkshire, Thirsk is a modern and family-friendly course built of tradition, and with plentiful well-kept lawns and gardens. The course is walk-able from the rail station but there are free shuttle buses laid on for the 14 meetings between April and September.
With enclosures and admission prices that cater for the best-dressed, the illustrious, the serious enthusiasts and the regular clientele, and with copious eating and drinking facilities, horse racing has always been an affordable and quintessentially English pursuit, embracing the thrill of the chase and the ceremony that is the art of ‘pushing the boat out’. Win, lose, or roughly break-even, there are few better days’ out.