Chepstow Racecourse is one of the most famous horse racing courses in the UK. Located close to the town of Chepstow, it benefits from a long lineage in horse racing, and delights thousands of spectators every year. The course is notable for its location; while the course is located in Monmouthshire in Wales, it is close to the English border, making it accessible for fans from both countries.
Most notably, Chepstow Racecourse is home to the richest race in Wales: the Coral Welsh Grand National, which takes place on the 27th of December each year. The Welsh National is a three and three quarter mile race, and is considered one of the most prestigious in the British calendar.
The history of Chepstow Racecourse
The origins of Chepstow Racecourse date back to the late 19th century, but the founding of the course we now all recognise as Chepstow did not take place in 1926. The course, which was backed by a mix of landed gentry and business owners, officially opened on August 6th, and donned the nickname “The Welsh Goodwood”.
The early days of the course were a struggle. Bankruptcy was a constant threat, and the loans that had been taken out to construct the course had to be guaranteed by the directors. The costs were also higher than the owners had expected but, somehow, they were able to raise the funds to carry on.
Jump racing made its way to Chepstow in its second year, with the first race being run in March of 1927. This signalled the start of a tradition where the course is used for flat racing through the summer, and jump racing during the winter months. While most people would now associate Chepstow with jump racing thanks to the Coral Welsh Grand National, flat racing was originally seen as more prestigious, and helped establish the course in the public consciousness.
The next few years of the course’s life were rather uneventful, but the breakout of the Second World War soon changed this. The site became “RAF Chepstow”, and was used as an operational outpost by the RAF. Numerous well-known RAF aircraft were stationed at RAF Chepstow during the war, including the Hawker Hurricane fighter and the Bristol Blenheim light bomber.
Racing resumed in the post-war years, and especially after the coup of attracting the Welsh National to the course in 1949 following the closure of the nearby Caerleon course. Since becoming the home of the Welsh National, Chepstow’s early flat racing pedigree has largely been superseded by National Hunt racing, and it is this that most of us associate with the course today.
The success of Chepstow through the difficult post-war years cannot be underestimated. Many other notable courses across the region — such as Abergavenny, Tenby, and Monmouth — were unable to establish themselves and, as a result, had to close.
From its early days struggling with bankruptcy, the Chepstow Racecourse is now on firm ground, and well-established within the racing landscape. The completion of the M4 motorway and Severn Bridge have allowed it to establish its popularity with both locals as well as horse racing fans living in England, helping to ensure reliable crowds at every event.
The course is now part of the Arena Racing Company, which owns and runs 15 racecourses in total across the UK. The modern day facility and course is set in over 400 acres of woodland, making it both a functional site for racing and a genuinely beautiful part of the world.
Notable moments, winners, and accomplishments
Over the years, Chepstow has been the venue for numerous notable accomplishments, including:
In 1933, Gordon Richards partnered the winners of eleven consecutive Chepstow races across two days.
From the end of the 50s to the beginning of the 60s — 1959, 1960, and 1961 — David Nicholson partnered three Welsh National winners in a row.
Numerous winners at Chepstow have gone on to achieve other successes in the same year, but there are two particular examples well worth drawing attention to. In the 1982-83 season, Jenny Pitman saddled Corbiere to win the Welsh National, and then went on to win the Aintree Grand National to complete a famous double. In the next year, the 1983-84 season, Burrough Hill Lad went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup after victory at Chepstow. Most noticeably of all, both Corbiere and Burrough Hill Lad were trained by Jenny Pitman, who also trained the 1986 winner Stearsby.
Bonanza Boy won back-to-back races in 1988 and 1989, trained by Martin Pipe.
The modern track
The track at Chepstow is fairly standardised. It consists of:
A circuit (which is roughly oval in shape) that is 3,200 metres in length— just under two miles.
The course is a left-handed undulating course.
It is used for both flat and jump racing, depending on the season.
The finishing straight is five furlongs in length.
For jump racing, the circuit comprises of 11 different fences, five of which are found on the home straight.
There is also an additional straight mile course.
The calendar of Chepstow tends to comprise of around 32 fixtures in terms of racing, but there are numerous other events that take place within the Chepstow grounds throughout the year. As well as the racing, there are also social and entertainment events spaced throughout the year. Some of the most well-known races to be run at the course occur towards the end of the year, and include:
Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle (run on a Saturday in October)
Persian War Novices Hurdle (run on a Saturday in October)
Finale Juvenile Hurdle (every December 27th)
And, of course, the Welsh Grand National, which runs every year on December 27th.
The year finishes with the Coral Welsh Grand National, which is always run on the same date. However, the 2017 race was postponed due to poor weather and took place in January 2018. This is not the first time this has happened; weather-related issues also caused postponements in 2010, 2012, and 2017. Further back in time, both the 1995 and 1996 races had to be abandoned due to frost— it’s fair to say that weather is always a complication when trying to run races during the UK winter!
When it finally did take place, the “2017” (but really run in 2018) Welsh Grand National was won by Raz de Maree, ridden by James Bowen and trained by Gavin Cromwell.
Other events in the Chepstow calendar
Like most racecourses, Chepstow has sought to upgrade its facilities and amenities to ensure it is suitably attractive to modern event goers. As a result, the course now offers an expansion selection of experiences outside of the racing itself. These include Ladies Evenings, restaurants featuring common Welsh favourites, festivals, and special events with notable figures from the horse racing world.
Concerts have also become a common part of the calendar at Chepstow, and are predominantly played during the summer months. Previous acts to play at the course include Madness, Tom Jones, Simply Red, and — most recently — Feeder. 2018 will see the course host the well-known Balter Festival. The Festival runs from June 7th through to June 10th, and features acts such as The Upbeats, Lazy Habits, and Kasra.
Finally, the course was also a recent host site for the BBC1 television programme the Antiques Roadshow.
Chepstow Racecourse remains one of the best known racecourses in the UK, and is sure to continue to build on its storied history as it closes in on over a century of incredible action taking place on its course.