The United Kingdom is home to 60 racecourses, Flat and National Hunt, spread across the length and breadth of the country, from Perth in Central Scotland to Newton Abbot in South West England. Each racecourse is officially graded on the total amount it is allocated, annually, in General Prize Fund (GPF) grants from the Horseracing Betting Levy Board (HBLB). Such grants are based on how much each racecourse contributes to prize money and how much off-course betting turnover it generates, so can be used as an objective, empirical measure of the ‘top’ racecourses in the country. Based on GPF grants, in 2020, the top five racecourses in the United Kingdom were Ascot, Cheltenham, Newmarket, York and Goodwood.
Situated just six miles from Windsor Castle, Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 and has been associated with the British Royal Family ever since. Royal Ascot, staged annually over five days in mid-June, hosts eight of the 36 Group 1 races run in Britain each year, while British Champions’ Day, in October, hosts another four. Of course, Ascot Racecourse is dual-purpose and, during the winter months, stages three Grade 1 National Hunt races.
Synonymous with the Cheltenham Festival, staged annually over four days in March, Cheltenham Racecourse is the undisputed home of National Hunt racing. The 14 Grade 1 races run at the Cheltenham Festival include the Champion Hurdle, Queen Month Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and the ‘Blue Riband’ event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Colloquially, Newmarket Racecourse is known as ‘Headquarters’ and is home to the Rowley Mile Course, used in the spring and autumn, and the July Course, used in the summer. Collectively, the courses host nine Group 1 races during the season, including two ‘Classics’, the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, run on the Rowley Mile Course on consecutive days in late Apri or early May.
Built on area of flat, low-lying ground, known as the ‘Knavesmire’, close to the city centre, York Racecourse has hosted horse racing since 1731 but, nowadays, is one of the premier racecourses in Europe.Seasonal highlights include the Juddmonte International Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks, Nunthorpe Stakes and the most valuable Flat handicap in Europe, the Ebor Handicap. All four race are run during the ‘Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival’, staged annually in August.
Synonymous with another highlight of the British sporting and social calendar, the five-day Goodwood Festival, a.k.a. ‘Glorious Goodwood’, Goodwood Racecourse is set high on the Sussex Downs and billed as ‘The most beautiful racecourse in the world’. Racing highlights include the Goodwood Cup, Sussex Stakes and Nassau Stakes, all of which are Group 1 contests.