Backing a winner

Date Posted: 09/01/2011

From horse racing highlights to a day at the dogs, we look at the odds for 2011.

With guided tours, themed events, open-air concerts and musical performances, a day at the races now offers more variety than ever before. Read on for Group Leisure’s hot tips for 2011.


Setting the scene for your day at the races, a behind-the-scenes tour can provide an interesting introduction for first-time race-goers, and offers a novel perspective for those who thought horse-racing was old-hat.

This year’s John Smith’s Grand National at Merseyside’s Aintree Racecourse will take place from the 7th to 9th April, and groups of 14 or more can explore the story behind one of the world’s greatest steeplechase events with The Grand National Experience. This tour around the Aintree visitor centre includes a trip to the Winner’s Enclosure and the stables, a wander through the Weighing Room, and a visit to Red Rum’s statue and grave.

Groups booking for the popular Newmarket Nights at Suffolk’s Newmarket Racecourse - offering early evening racing followed by a pulsating open-air concert - can combine this with a visit to the National Stud. The Newmarket Nights Tour includes a guided tour of the stud, high tea, trips to the start of the course, and a visit to the weighing room. The 2011 Newmarket Nights are scheduled for the 17th and 24th June, 15th, 22nd and 29th July, and 5th and 12th August, with acts to be confirmed. Private tours of the National Stud can also be arranged for parties of 20 or more people from February to September (in addition to October half-term), with free coach parking available.

Fontwell Park Racecourse in west Sussex has unveiled a brand new Racecourse Tour package for 2011. Offering a premier enclosure ticket, racecard, £5 tote betting voucher, and welcome beverage of beer, wine or a soft drink, the package also features a behind-the-scenes tour of the racecourse. Prices vary from £30 per person for a standard race meeting to £35 for a feature race meeting.

Over in east Sussex, Brighton Racecourse boasts a number of offers for visiting groups, including festival packages Champagne Charlie and Pimm’s for a Pair. Those experiencing a day at the races for the first time can enjoy the introductory Classic Raceday package. As well as an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour; a premier ticket, welcome tea/coffee and biscuits, a raceday programme, drinks vouchers and a tote betting booster is also included in the package.

Musical extravaganzas

An increasingly popular way to spend a day at the races is to combine it with top musical entertainment, as more and more venues host early evening racing followed by an open-air concert or performance, featuring both big name artists and tribute acts.

Pop singer and television personality Peter Andre will make his race meeting performance debut in 2011 as he plays at Kempton Park Racecourse, Middlesex, on the 6th July, as part of its popular Summer Series; and Lincolnshire’s Market Ransen Racecourse on the 20th August.

The popular Epsom Live! Series at Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey is scheduled to take place every Thursday evening from the 30th June to 28th July, with racegoers treated to an evening of live racing followed by a live music act. Confirmed artists so far include Scottish rock band Texas (30th June) and boy-band The Wanted (21st July). A number of group packages and discounts are available for parties booking in advance.

Expect another line-up of big-name acts at Newbury Racecourse’s Party in the Paddock, with last year’s headliners including Simply Red and Westlife. With confirmation of 2011 dates - 21st May, 8th July, and 13th August - group bookings of ten or more are entitled to a ten per cent discount.

In another first for the Sussex racecourse, this year Fontwell Park will host a new two-day festival on the 30th September and 1st October, with live music after racing. Additional musical events include the Royal Wedding Race Night featuring the Magic of Take That and Robbie (29th April), and Ladies evening with the magic of Motown (18th August).

Racing day highlights

2011 marks the 300th anniversary year of Ascot Racecourse. Founded in 1711 when Queen Anne was riding through Windsor Great Park and noted its ideal location for a racecourse, visiting groups can participate in a host of celebratory events throughout the year. Highlights include a Tercentenary race at Royal Ascot, historic timelines, a history trail, and vintage images around the racecourse. A popular day out, with Royal Ascot voted the best group event for three consecutive years at the annual Group Leisure Awards, the racecourse offers additional themed racedays, including a Wine Festival, a Food Fair, a Christmas Shopping Village and five Family Days.

Celebrations will also be in full swing at Bath Racecourse, as it celebrates its 200th anniversary year in 2011. The festivities are set to climax on the 20th August with Ladies’ Day & 200 Anniversary Celebrations. This special event promises glitz and glamour, with best dressed and best hat competitions, and birthday party celebrations after the racing, featuring live music and fireworks. Discounted rates are available for parties of 15 or more.

Boasting four days of magic, madness and magnificence, Cheltenham Racecourse in Gloucestershire will host The Festival at Cheltenham from the 15th to 18th March. Ladies’ Day will take place on Wednesday 16th, featuring the popular Fashion Awards for the best-dressed females with luxury prizes up for grabs; before the climax of the jump racing season takes place on Friday 18th with the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.

July welcomes the highlight of the Goodwood season, as Glorious Goodwood returns to the Sussex racecourse from the 26th to 30th July. Promising a blend of sporting excellence and social occasion, this quintessentially English event is as much about glamour, fashion and celebrity-spotting as the horse-racing. Racing highlights include the Sussex Stakes, the Goodwood Cup and the Blue Square Nassau Stakes, with Ladies’ Day taking place on the Thursday of the festival.

Themed fun

Increasingly popular and becoming more imaginative each year, themed events can put a different spin on a day at the races and may extend its appeal for some members of your group.

Sandown Park is set to host its sixth annual Irish Day on the 11th June, bringing a touch of Ireland to the Surrey racecourse. Irish dancers will be performing a Riverdance display, with musical entertainment from a U2 tribute band. Particularly popular with family groups, the annual Variety Club Day will take place on the 20th August, promising a carnival atmosphere and guest appearances from favourite literary and television characters. Discounted admission rates are available for parties of 12 plus.

Irish Night at Pontefract Racecourse, west Yorkshire, is scheduled for the 27th May, and features a Wee Bag Band playing Irish music, an Irish restaurant menu, and Guinness vouchers for the first 100 race-goers. The first of three evening meetings confirmed for this year, additional dates include Singles Night on the 6th June and Red Shirt Night on the 15th July, featuring an 80s cover band.

Making reference to its historic roots, Chester Racecourse will host its Roman Day on the 21st May, featuring seven races, Roman displays and a host of family entertainment. Its Family Funday is scheduled for the 31st July, promising a full day of racing with plenty of entertainment to keep younger group members amused. Also appealing to children and family groups, Haydock Park in Merseyside has scheduled three separate family days in 2011, with the Easter, summer and Halloween Family Fun Days, taking place on the 23rd April, 4th August and 26th October respectively.

Attracting a population of curry lovers, Beer & Balti racenights are becoming more prevalent on the events calendar, serving up an evening of racing alongside the nation’s favourite dish. Brighton Racecourse will host it’s Beer & Balti night on the 28th April - it’s second race-evening of the year, with Chepstow Racecourse in Monmouthshire following suit with its Beer & Balti Racenight on the 29th June.

To the dogs

While greyhound racing may not have the same glamorous connotations as some of the highlights in the horse racing calendar, a night at the dogs can nonetheless provide a fast-paced, fun-filled evening of entertainment for your group.

Love the Dogs Greyhound Stadiums offer a host of venues across the UK, including: Wimbledon, Manchester Belle Vue, Birmingham Hall Green, Birmingham Perry Barr, and Oxford. Presenting a host of experiences and packages for visiting groups, GTOs can log onto the website and click through to their preferred venue for further information.

Coral Brighton & Hove and Coral Romford Greyhound Stadiums both offer a 6 Pack deal for groups of six plus, which includes admission and racecard, two drinks, a meal from the grill (Brighton & Hove) or a basket meal (Romford), a £1 tote jackpot bet and a re-admission voucher. Stadium facilities at Brighton & Hove include the Skyline Restaurant (catering for 480 diners), five licensed bars, two food outlets, and a children’s play area; while the Romford stadium has a capacity of up to 4,300, with two enclosures, the stylish Pavilion Suite, the Chase and Paddock Corner restaurants, eight licensed bars, and four additional fast food outlets.

Groups of eight or more visiting Owlerton Stadium, located five minutes from Sheffield’s city centre can choose from the Six Pack Party Deal - an informal evening spent trackside, with admission, chicken in a basket meal, drink, racecard, and £1 tote jackpot bet included in the price; or the Super 6 Pack (Executive Box 5) - featuring admission, Indian cuisine, a drink, racecard, and £1 tote jackpot bet, with stylish surroundings in Executive Box 5.

Race around the world

Kentucky Derby
Promoted as America’s original, extravagant springtime sports party, and held annually in May, 2011 marks the 137th Kentucky Derby hosted at Churchill Downs Racecourse, Louisville. The first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing in the US, the ‘Run for the Roses’ is a race steeped in tradition, from official tipple the mint julep, to the chorus of My Old Kentucky Home played for the post parade. Visit the official website for information on the host of packages and experiences available for groups.

Melbourne Cup
Ingrained in the Australian culture and glorified as the race that stops a nation, the history of the Melbourne Cup dates back to 1861. Hosted by Flemington Racecourse each November, details of travel packages, accommodation ideas and ticketing information are available on the official website.

Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Held on the first Sunday of October and promoted as the climax of the racing season, 2011 celebrates the 90th year of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Staged at Longchamp Racecourse, within close proximity to the French capital, groups can combine this racing highlight with a stay in Paris. A number of tour operators, including Travelsphere and Leger Holidays offer packaged breaks.

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