A day at the races

Date Posted: 17/01/2010

It is for good reason that horse and greyhound racing are among the UK’s most popular spectator sports. A trip to the races can provide a dynamic and stimulating day out for any group: they can dress up for Royal Ascot or dress down for a night at the dogs, simply spectate or have a little flutter. Most racecourses even offer themed fixtures and combine a day at the races with beer festivals, music concerts and children’s activities. These are our “racing tips” for GTOs in 2010.

Glitz and glamour

Royal Ascot is one of the racing calendar’s most iconic events and is an annual celebration of the sport’s glamorous side. This year the event will run from 15th to 19th June and offer a heady mix of top quality racing, stylish outfits, big hats, royalty, celebrity spotting... and of course, the occasional flutter!

Royal Ascot is steeped in tradition. For example, the Queen attends every day of the event and can be viewed (albeit from a distance) in the Royal Procession. Also, each day’s racing finishes with a traditional sing-along around the bandstand - with free songbooks supplied.

If your group are more interested in the fashion than the racing, then Royal Ascot will not disappoint with the daily Royal Ascot Fashion Show. Since its inception in 2007, the event has become a highlight and attracts many of the industry’s top designers, which included Vivienne Westwood and Stephen Jones in 2009.

Throughout the year, Ascot Racecourse hosts over 20 other race days, many of which are combined with activities including concerts, food fairs and beer festivals. Group tickets are available throughout the year from £6 (£14 for Royal Ascot).

Tradition and history

Epsom Downs in Surrey is synonymous with horseracing. It is of course home to the infamous two-day Derby Festival (4th to 5th June), which has been running for 230 years and sports the UK’s largest prize fund of £1.25 million.

The racecourse has recently completed a three-year, £38 million redevelopment project which has seen the construction of an on-site hotel, a new entrance pavilion and a new grandstand.

Now fully operational, Epsom Downs once again has a full programme of 15 fixtures planned this year. The season opens at the Spring Meeting in April when the line up includes the Blue Riband Derby Trial and the five furlong sprint along the fastest sprint course in the world.

2009 was also an exciting year for Sandown Park Racecourse when it racked up a number of key industry awards including the Betview Award for Racecourse of the Year and south east Racecourse of the Year by The Racegoers Club.

These accolades reflect the fact that Sandown Park has been at the heart of horseracing for more than a century and today remains one of the UK’s most loved venues featuring race meetings throughout the year.

Highlights include military days where the courage of our armed forces is honoured. The Grand Military Gold Cup Day dates back to 1841 and was avidly supported by the Queen Mother. Famously, her horse won on five occasions and a bronze statue of it can be found near the Winners’ Enclosure.

For over 60 years, Sandown Park has played host to the celebrity-packed Variety Club Day to help raise money for disadvantaged children. The event takes place in August and is arguably one of racing’s most familyfriendly fixtures.

A discount of 20 per cent is available for groups of 12 or more, including free coach parking.

Cheltenham is most strongly associated with jump racing and The Festival in March, featuring the famous Cheltenham Gold Cup. This busy racecourse hosts 17 race days each year with several races per day, making it a good option for groups.

The course can cater for all budgets with its wide selection of bars, food outlets and three differently priced enclosures. The Best Mate enclosure offers the best value and is located next to the winning post - ideal for groups seeking an up-close, hands-on racing experience. Also of interest is the Tattersalls enclosure which offers access to the paddock area.

Discounts are available for groups of 15 or more, except for the October race meetings when discounts are available for groups of ten.

Great value racing

Away from the large-scale racecourses, GTOs will find excellent value for money at one of the numerous mid-scale venues across the UK. Most of these racecourses are part of the portfolio of major racing groups like Arena Leisure and Jockey Club Racecourses. With nearly every region serviced by a high-quality course, GTOs will not need to stray too far to seek out a great value day at the races.

Fontwell Park, west Sussex has been voted the Best Small Racecourse in the south east by the Racegoers Club for the past 19 years. This year, it is set to expand its reputation with the opening of a new £6.5 million grandstand in the Premier Enclosure, extending the racecourse’s hospitality and betting facilities. This new three-storey stand will be open for its Ladies’ Evening fixture in August.

Alongside fixtures aimed at racing fanatics, Fontwell runs themed days and combines races with other activities. For example, family race days run throughout the year when children can climb aboard fun fair rides, stroke the animals in pets’ corner and have their faces painted. Also, evening meetings with post-race live music have proved popular; an Irish race day is planned for October with live music after the racing.

Teetering on the banks of the River Severn, you will find Worcester Racecourse, one of the UK’s oldest and most picturesque racecourses. It offers a wide range of fixtures, but its Ladies’ Day in June is particularly popular with groups. GTOs on a budget are well-catered for with the Grandstand Value Package, which is available for every meeting except Ladies’ Day when alternative arrangements are made.

Haydock Park lies between Liverpool and Manchester and is the north west’s premier dual-purpose racecourse, with horse racing on the flat and over jumps. Between May and September, there is an array of fixtures on the flat including several ladies’ nights, music events and the Betfred Sprint Cup day in September.

Set in 22 acres of parkland, Wolverhampton Racecourse has the ambience of a rural race day but is less than two miles from the hustle-and-bustle of Wolverhampton city centre. It’s an interesting mix of old and new, with a conservation area set inside a modern all-weather polytrack surface. In terms of fixtures, it is one of the busiest racecourses in the country and can offer groups great value days out all year-round.

For groups of six or more, Wolverhampton Racecourse (pictured) offers a Party Pack Group Deal comprising grandstand entrance, three drinks vouchers and a discounted Ladbrokes betting voucher. Finally, Southwell Racecourse is one of only two racecourses in Britain to offer all-weather, flat turf and jump racing every month of the year. Groups of seven qualify for the ‘Lucky 7’ deal which includes drinks and discounted betting vouchers.

... and Wales takes the lead!

2010 is set to be a landmark year in the history of Welsh horseracing and arguably, the heart of Welsh horseracing can be found at Chepstow Racecourse, with jump racing in the winter and flat action in the summer. It is also home to the lynchpin fixture of Welsh racing just after Christmas: the prestigious Coral Welsh National.

But we shouldn’t let the Welsh National overshadow Chepstow’s other great year-round events which include a popular Ladies’ Evening in July and a number of family fun days throughout spring and summer.

Up until recently, GTOs only had two racecourses in Wales to choose from: Chepstow and Bangor-on-Dee, a jumps only course. In June 2009, Ffos Las Racecourse opened in Carmarthenshire, west Wales and became the first new turf racecourse in more than 80 years.

The £30 million development is a complete regeneration of the former site, which was the largest opencast coal mine in Europe. The new 600-acre site now caters for flat racing, hurdles and chase events.

Although 2010 will be Ffos Las’s first full-year of fixtures, the racecourse has already secured an excellent reputation and showed signs of phenomenal success. When tickets were released for the opening meeting in June last year, the fixture sold out immediately with around 8,500 race-goers scrambling for tickets.

Ffos Las is now home to the SIS Live Welsh Champion Hurdle and there are 28 fixtures planned for 2010.

A night at the dogs

Greyhound racing can be one of the most exhilarating group activities imaginable. The atmosphere is always spirited and fast-paced, fuelled by new races starting every 15 minutes.

It is this lively, non-stop action that has secured the popularity of greyhound racing in the UK. According to research conducted for the horseracing industry, greyhound racing is Britain’s third most attended spectator sport, with three million people attending each year and betting £2.5 billion between them.

Reportedly, even the gloomy economic climate hasn’t been able to deter people from spending a night at the dogs. A total of 70,000 races are hosted by 28 licensed racetracks across the UK each year, making it easy for a GTO to locate a good-quality venue for their group.

Nottingham Greyhound Stadium describes itself as the home of greyhound racing in the East Midlands, and was voted Central Region Racecourse of the Year by the British Greyhound Racing Board for 1998-1999 and 2001-2002. The track races every Monday, Friday and Saturday evening throughout the year. There is also a daytime meeting on Tuesdays with free admission.

Peterborough Greyhound Stadium is patronised by over 4,000 people per week and features a 1,000-seat stadium, eight bars, a fast food outlet and a race-view restaurant. The track races every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening throughout the year.

Coral Romford Greyhound Stadium (pictured)was winner of the British Greyhound Racing Board’s Racecourse of the Year for 1998 and 2003. Across its two differently priced enclosures, the race experience is enhanced by a resident commentator, video replay and photo finish systems. Technology is also employed to facilitate adults with communication disabilities to place their bets. The track races every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year. There are also daytime meetings on Thursdays and Saturdays with free admission. 

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