Nowadays property of Folkestone & Hythe District Council and destined to become part of the sprawling ‘Otterpool Park’ housing development, Folkestone Racecourse still stands in Westenhanger, west of Folkestone town centre, as it has done since 1898. In its heyday, Folkestone was the only official horse racing venue in Kent and staged both Flat and National Hunt fixtures throughout the year.
However, following its ‘temporary’ closure in December, 2012 which, according to previous owners Arena Racing Company (ARC) was to allow redevelopment of ‘outdated’ facilities, Folkestone never opened its gates again. In fact, the previously magnificent site has essentially been left to slowly decay into rack and ruin.
The tumbledown buildings, including the wooden-fronted main stand, are still standing, albeit only just, but the steeplechase fences and running rails. The attractive parade ring and paddock area, behind the main stand, has at least been maintained to some extent, but the racing surface has been reclaimed by grass and tall, ugly weeds, reminiscent of a large, unkempt field than a racecourse.
Racing Post journalist Lee Mottershead once wrote, hauntily, of Folkestone, ‘They once raced horses here.’ They did, indeed, and the brutal demise of a landmark that stood for over a century is heart-breaking and shameful in equal measure.
At the time of writing, the superstar mare Enable, on whom Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2017 and 2018, and finished a heartbreaking second in 2019, has yet to make her second attempt to win the race for an unprecedented third time. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, popularly known as the ‘Arc’, is the most prestigious and valuable Flat race run in Europe, with total prize money of €5 million. Since its inuguration in 1920, eight horses have won the Arc twice but, with the exception of Enable, Treve in 2015 is the only horse to try, and fail, to win the race three times.
Regardless of whether or not Enable makes history, Dettori, who turns 50 in December, 2020, is already the leading jockey in the history of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with six winners. His first three winners, Lammtarra in 1995, Sakhee in 2001 and Marienbard in 2002, were all trained in Newmarket by Saeed bin Suroor; Lammtarra was owned by Saeed bin Maktoum al Maktoum, the nephew of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of Godolphin, while Sakhee and Marienbard carried the royal blue silks of Godolphin. Dettori lost his job as retained jockey to Goldolphin in October, 2012, but subsequently renewed his association with his old mentor, John Gosden; so far, Gosden has supplied him with three more Arc winners, Golden Horn, owned by Anthony Oppenheimer, in 2015 and Enable, owned by Khalid Abdullah, in 2017 and 2018.
In Britain, horse racing stewards are officials appointed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). They are a mixture of unpaid volunteers and paid, or ‘stipendiary’, stewards who, collectively, oversee the fair running of races, Flat and National Hunt, and enforce the Rules of Racing. A ‘stipend’ is a fixed, regularly-occurring payment, so ‘stipendiary’ is simply the term used to differentiate those stewards who are salaried employees of the BHA from those who are not. At any race meeting, there are typically two, or possibly three, stipendiary stewards – many of whom are former jockeys – on duty.
In the event of a potential breach of the rules, the stewards will call an enquiry, led by a stipendiary steward, to investigate any issues and determine a course of action, if necessary. Having reviewed the race in question and interviewed the jockeys concerned, the stewards have the power to promote, demote or disqualify horses and to hand down suspensions to jockeys guilty of riding infractions, such as ‘improper’ or ‘careless’ riding, which may not, necessarily, have affected the result of the race under scrutiny. They can also forward matters to the BHA Disciplinary Panel for further consideration.
All told, mainland Britain is home to 60 racecourses, five of which are in Scotland and three of which are in Wales. Of the 52 racecourses located in England, it should come as no great surprise that the largest conglomeration is found in Yorkshire which is, after all, the largest historic county in the country. Yorkshire has nine racecourses, six of which cater exclusively for Flat racing and three of which are dual purpose.
Starting in the extreme north of the county, Redcar, home of the Zetland Gold Cup, is a Flat-only venue, as are its North Yorkshire neighbours Ripon and Thirsk. Catterick, or Catterick Bridge, though, also stages National Hunt racing, including the North Yorkshire Grand National every January. Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, are also Flat-only venues, but Wetherby, also in West Yorkshire, has been dual-purpose since 2015. York, in the heart of the county, is a Grade One Flat track, famous for the Juddmonte International, Nunthorpe and Yorkshire Oaks while, further south, Doncaster is home to the oldest British Classic, the St. Leger.