York Racecourse occupies a lush, green 200-acre site on the southwestern outskirts of the City of York, in North Yorkshire. However, the modern racecourse complex is a far cry from the humble tract of wet, swampy ground on the Micklegate Stray – a large area of common land – known historically as ‘Knares Myre’ and, later, the ‘Knavesmire’, on which horse racing first took place in 1731.


The first grandstand was built in 1754 and, later, under the auspices of the York Racecourse Committee – which was formed in 1842, but still exists – further stands were erected in 1890. More recent additions, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, include the Melrose Stand, Knavesmire Stand and Ebor Stand.York Racecourse was originally a dual-purpose venue, patronised by the Yorkshire Union Hunt, but National Hunt racing ceased in 1885.


Originally, the track itself was horseshoe-shaped but, prior to the staging of ‘Royal Ascot at York’ in 2005, during the redevelopment of the Berkshire course, the horseshoe was completed to create a round course, two miles in circumference, and therefore suitable for the running of the Gold Cup, over two-and-a-half miles. The round course is left-handed, galloping in character and features a sweeping turn into the long home straight. Like the separate straight course, on which sprint races, over five and six furlongs, are run, the round course is very wide, with no pronounced undulations, and is considered a fair test for all types of horse.


Notable races run at York include three Group One races, the Juddmonte International Stakes, the Nunthorpe Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks, all of which are staged during the four-day Yorkshire Ebor Festival, held annually in August. The Ebor Festival takes its name from the Ebor Handicap – the oldest and most famous race run at York, inaugurated in 1840 and, from 2019, worth £1 million in prize money – which, in turn, takes its name from ‘Eboracum’, the Roman city from which the City of York evolved following the decline of the Roman Empire.


Newmarket Racecourse or, rather, Newmarket Racecourses – the racecourse complex comprises two individual courses, known as the Rowley Mile Course and the July Course – is situated on the outskirts of the town of Newmarket, Suffolk, on the border with Cambridgeshire. Newmarket has long been the headquarters of British Flat racing and is often referred to, colloquially, as ‘Headquarters’.


Newmarket Racecourse was founded in 1663, during the reign of King Charles II, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy in England three years previously. Indeed, the King, affectionately known as ‘Rowley’, or ‘Old Rowley’, was instrumental is the establishment and evolution of Newmarket Racecourse and for the transformation of Newmarket from a humble market town to a flourishing centre for horse racing.


The Rowley Mile Course, which commemorates the early Royal patronage of Newmarket, is used for racing during the spring and autumn and, annually, on the first weekend in May, plays host to the first two ‘Classic’ races of the season, 1,000 Guineas and the 2,000 Guineas. Both races were established by the Jockey Club, under the stewardship of Sir Charles Bunbury, but the 2,000 Guineas, which is open to thoroughbred three-year-old colts and fillies, was inaugurated in 1809, five years before the 1,000 Guineas, which is open to thoroughbred three-year-old fillies only. Interestingly, Sir Charles Bunbury is also credited with introducing racing to Newmarket during the summer months and the aptly-named July Course, which is used for racing between June and August, features a one-mile straight known as the ‘Bunbury Mile’.


Collectively, Newmarket Racecourses host a quarter of the Group One races run annually in Britain. Aside from the first Classics, the Rowley Mile Course hosts four major two-year-old races, the Cheveley Park and Middle Park Stakes in September and the Fillies’ Mile and Dewhurst Stakes in October. The July Course, on the other hand, hosts the July Cup, one of the most prestigious, and valuable, sprint races in the world and the Falmouth Stakes, open to fillies aged three years and upwards and run over the Bunbury Mile.


As the home of the Grand National, which annually attracts a global television audience of 600 million, Aintree Racecourse is, arguably, the most instantly recognisable horse racing venue in the world. The Grand National Course consists of 16 idiosyncratic spruce fences, 14 of which are jumped twice during the world famous steeplechase, which is run over a distance of 4 miles, 2 furlongs and 74 yards.


The most famous fences on the National Course are Becher’s Brook which, at one point, feature a steep 3’ drop on the landing side, the Canal Turn, which marks the furthest point from the grandstand, alongside the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, and immediately after which horses must negotiate a near 90° turn, and The Chair, which is the penultimate fence on the first circuit and jumped only once, but the highest fence on the course at 5’2”. Other features of Aintree Racecourse, such as the Melling Road, which horses the cross twice during the Grand National, and the famously long, 494-yard run-in, with its equally famous ‘Elbow’ a furlong or so from the winning post, are familiar to viewers worldwide.


Of course, the Grand National is not the only race run on the National Course at Aintree. The other races are the Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase and the Topham Chase, which are both run over 2 miles, 5 furlongs and 19 yards at the Grand National Meeting in April and the Grand Sefton Chase, run over the same distance, and the Becher Chase, run over 3 miles, 1 furlong and 188 yards, in December.


Aside from the Grand National Course, the Aintree Racecourse complex also includes a traditional, ‘park’ course, known as the Mildmay Course. The Mildmay Course is a left-handed oval, about a mile-and-a-half around, laid out inside the National Course. There are eight traditional birch fences, or six hurdles, to a circuit but, despite remedial work on the bends in the late Eighties, the Mildmay Course remains sharp in character. Notable races on the Mildmay Course include the Betway Bowl, Melling Chase and Aintree Hurdle, all Grade One events run during Grand National Meeting in April.


Ascot Racecourse is situated in the Royal County of Berkshire in South East England, next to Windsor Great Park and less than seven miles from Windsor Castle. The racecourse was the brainchild of the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne who, in 1711, identified a tract of land on East Cote Heath – near Swinley Bottom, where the Royal Buckhounds were kennelled – as ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’.


The first race, Her Majesty’s Plate, worth 100 guineas, took place on August 11, 1711 and so began a connection between Ascot Racecourse and the Royal Family that has endured until the present day. That said, following the death of Queen Anne in August, 1714, Ascot Racecourse fell out of favour, but returned to prosperity under the auspices of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – the erstwhile ‘Butcher of Culloden’, but also a keen sportsman – over four decades later. Landmark dates in the subsequent history of Ascot include the first four-day, Tuesday-to-Friday fixture in 1749, the erection of the first Royal Stand in 1790 and the first Royal Procession in 1825.


Nowadays, Ascot Racecourse is famous worldwide as the home of Royal Ascot, which was ‘temporarily’ extended to five days in 2002, to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, but has kept the extra day ever since. The Royal Meeting, staged annually in June, features eight Group One races, including the traditional highlight, the Gold Cup, run over two-and-a-half miles on the Thursday, also known as ‘Ladies’ Day’. Other notable fixtures staged, on the Flat, at Ascot Racecourse include the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July and British Champions Day in mid-October.


Of course, Ascot Racecourse is dual-purpose, with National Hunt racing first staged in 1966, following the closure at Hurst Park Racecourse in Surrey four years earlier. Notable National Hunt races include the Grade Two Ascot Hurdle in November, the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle in December and the Grade One Clarence House Chase in January.


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