Whatever happened to Hurst Park Racecourse?

Whatever happened to Hurst Park Racecourse?  Hurst Park Racecourse was situated at Molesey Hurst, on the southern bank of the River Thames, near West Molesey, Surrey. In fact, it occupied more or less the same site as the old Hampton Racecourse, which staged its final meeting on June 15, 1887, after the Jockey Club refused to renew its licence. Notwithstanding its compact size, Hampton was an open, rather than enclosed, course, with no admission fee. The absence of this additional revenue scheme, coupled with the fact that just four days’ racing were staged annually, led to the deterioration of the course to the point that it was deemed unfit for racing by the governing body of the day.

Two years later, though, the site was purchased by the Hurst Park Club Syndicate Limited and developed as a closed course. Initially too small to be granted a licence for Flat racing, Hurst Park Racecourse staged its first National Hunt fixture on March 19, 1890. Thereafter, the course was extended onto nearby open country to create an oval, 11 furlongs in extent, and a straight, 7-furlong ‘Victoria Cup’ course, suitable for Flat racing. The first Flat fixture duly took place on March 25, 1891.

The Victoria Cup, itself, was a established, as a two-mile handicap, in 1901, before being run for the first time in its modern guise, over 7 furlongs, in 1908. The race was transferred to Ascot the year after the closure of Hurst Park in 1962, where it is still run annually in May and remains as fiercely competitive as ever. The Victoria Cup aside, the other principal race in the history of Hurst Park was the Triumph Hurdle, which was established in 1939 and has been a fixture of the Cheltenham Festival, staged annually in March, since 1968.

On the afternoon June 8, 1913, Emily Davison finally succumbed to the injuries she sustained when struck by Anmer, the horse owned by King George V, during the so-called ‘Suffragette Derby’ at Epsom four days earlier. That night, fellow activists Kitty Marion and Clara Giveen set fire to the main grandstand at Hurst Park, reducing it to ‘a fantastic medley of charred wood, twisted iron, broken and melted glass…’ and causing an estimated £10,000 worth of damage. The pair were tried and convicted at Surrey Assizes in Guildford the following month but, despite being sentenced to three years apiece in Holloway Prison, were released early under the 1913 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, a.k.a. the Cat and Mouse Act, as the result of hunger striking.

Hurst Park survived, albeit that the resulting damage, coupled with the outbreak of World War I the following year, led to the cessation of racing at the venue 1916 amd 1918. It was a similar story during World War II, when Hurst Park became a military camp, housing British and American troops, between 1941 and 1945. Nevertheless, racing resumed after the cessation of hostilities and, in 1946, the Easter Monday meeting, transferred from nearby Kempton Park, featured a record attendance of 49,600, according to the Tote.

Indeed, the popularity of Hurst Park endured right up to its closure, following the final meeting on October 10, 1962. By that stage, though, the value of the land on which the racecourse stood, as a prime real estate location, far exceeded that as a sporting venue and the owners decided to cash in their investment. Much of the racecourse infrastructure disappeared; the turf, for example, was ripped up and relaid on the new National Hunt course at Ascot, which opened in 1965. However, the huge brick pillars on either side of Graburn Way, which originally supported large gates, still survive.

Continue Reading

3 Racecourses I Would Love To Visit

3 Racecourses I Would Love To Visit  I’ve not been to many horse racecourse in my life. In fact, I can count them on two hands. In truth, each racecourses holds a story which, in ways, goes beyond just a day at the races. Those I have visited include: Great Yarmouth, Newmarket, Leicester, Kempton (turf), Royal Ascot, Huntingdon & Fakenham.

Considering there are 59 racecourse in Britain there’s ample opportunity to travel near or far.

The question arose: ‘Which is your favourite racecourse?’ when travelling with my two brothers to Great Yarmouth, for a day at the races. The train inspector came around to check our tickets and we go chatting about our trip to the Norfolk racecourse. I asked him about his favourite and he said Cartmel, which is small national hunt racecourse in the village of Cartmel in the county of Cumbria. It’s a compact course which is dog friendly detailing 9 fixtures throughout the season. The most prestigious race being the Cumbria Crystal Cup which takes place in July.

This got me thinking about 3 racecourses I would love to visit.

In no particular order:

Killarney, Ireland –

I’ve never visited Ireland which is a real shame and something I intend to put right with a day or two’s racing at Killarney. I had heard people saying it was set in a beautiful location so I had a look on Google Maps. I was inspired by this racecourse in the Emerald Isle. Called ‘Ireland’s most scenic racecourse’ located at County Kerry. The course dates back to 1822 and stages both national hunt and flat racing. It’s a beautiful location, a stones throw from Ross Castle and Lough Leane in the Killarney National Park. It looks a truly amazing experience.

Musselburgh, Scotland –

I didn’t realise how close Musselburgh racecourse was to the coast but you can probably hear the sound of crashing waves. Just seven miles from the beautiful city of Edinburgh, East Lothian. Opened in 1816 this national hunt and flat racecourse holds 29 meetings annually. Tickets range from £16 – £21 with children 17 and under going free (concessions are available for many). Musselburgh is a one course I really would enjoy a day’s racing and a tourist hotspot with Edinburgh just down the road.

Warwick, England –

It makes me sad to think I will never be able to visit Warwick racecourse. I know what you are saying: ‘Well, it’s easy you only need to visit and enjoy a day’s racing.’ Sadly, I wish I could go and watch a Flat racing meeting. However, all horse racing fans know that will never happen again as the course ceased with Flat racing in 2014 after a horse was fatally injured. I loved the old dogleg bend, especially with the two-year-old horse racing. There was often a difference of opinion which part of the course was running fastest so horses would often spread across the course to the extreme rails. Not being a fan of the national hunt those exciting days of juvenile racing will be no more.

Continue Reading

3 Memorable Moments At Racecourses

3 Memorable Moments At Racecourses  There are lots of reasons to go to the racecourse. You have the race horses, bookmakers to place your bets and a bustling crowd. You’ve never had a better opportunity to people watch or have a chat with some random soul. I’ve been to a limited number of racecourses. In fact, I wrote an article titled: 5 Racecourses I’ve Visited In My Life. You’ve guesses it, the five strangest happenings have occurred at those racecourses. Here are a three memorable moments that stick in my mind. There are others which I will keep for another day.

1) A Man With 3 Hats

It’s common to see someone wearing a hat at the races. Depending upon the racecourse and meeting it may range from a bobble, flat cap or top hat. Personally, I’m odds on not to be seen wearing a hat. However, have you ever seen a man with three hats? I was with my brothers at Great Yarmouth in the member’s enclosure, the bar which leads to the Trafalgar Restaurant. I notice a well dressed man with a plastic bag standing at the bar, hat in hand, chatting to someone behind the bar. I guessed they were talking about the hats. He had a bright pink hat in the style of a bowler. I see him put it on. Talk a little more. Showing it to the bartender and then carefully taking another hat out of the bag putting it on the bar. They had a conversation for about ten minutes. Then, the mysterious the hat man put all three hats back in his plastic bag and left. I’m not sure whether he left the racecourse or mingled with the bustling crowd. Perhaps he wore one of those hats or alternated between all three. I couldn’t help but wonder what was the hat man’s story. Did he make the hats? Was he interested in selling them? Did he live at Great Yarmouth? For the life of me, I wish I had gone to the bar and listened to the conversation or said: ‘I like those hats!’ Perhaps his story was bog standard and nothing to tell but perhaps it was the most amazing tale I would ever hear.

2) It Was So Cold Even The ‘Blank’ Shivered

Being a fair-weather gambler I usually stick to Flat racing meetings, specifically Great Yarmouth. There’s nothing worse than a wet day. I had a spate of times going racing where the morning would be bright and sunny but by the second race it would be hammering down with rain. Once, I got a bus back into town with a saturated crowd. It looked like we had been rescued from a stricken vessel on the North sea. However, this story is about a day’s racing at Fakenham, in the middle of winter. It was the first time I ventured to this racecourse. It has a farming feel with lots of wax jackets, flat caps, tweed and wellington boots. Being a rural setting the course allows dogs as long as they are kept on their lead. There seemed to be dogs everywhere. Lot of Jack Russells, Labradors, a few fancy breeds, all well behaved. My cousin, Danny, stood chatting when a man with a greyhound stopped a few yards away. I imagine it was a rescue dog. It looked smart wearing a tartan jacket. It must have been a frost that morning with a horrid wind, the chill factor must have been minus. The greyhound was shivering with cold. I’m pretty sure if I had got closer I would have heard its teeth chattering. My cousin, always funny, made a few jokes and I couldn’t help but smile. It was far too cold for man nor beast.

3) I’m Not Sure What She Looks Like

This happened at Great Yarmouth racecourse. A kind of funny moment in ways but one which stuck in my mind. I’d joined a horse racing syndicate called Newmarket Equine Tours, run by a lovely lady Julia Feilden. The Ducking Stool was running that afternoon and it was the first time I had attended the syndicate. I was told to meet Julia in the owners and trainers bar, which seemed kind of exciting but alien as I’m very much a Tattersall’s man. So I put on my best jacket, looking half respectable and entered the bar which was busy with the great and good of racing. I was looking around to see if Julia was there but couldn’t see her anywhere. It then dawned on me that I wasn’t really sure what she looked like! I said to myself: ‘This isn’t going very well.’ I felt a little out of place just standing there looking at a hundred faces. I see a waitress and asked: ‘Do you know if Julia Feilden is here?’ She looked and couldn’t see her. However, she knew George Margarson, a Newmarket horse trainer, who sat at a table next to where I was standing. Moments later I was chatting with George who said she had to leave because there was a problem at the stables. Eventually she returned and introduced me to the rest of the syndicate, a friendly bunch. It was a good time had by all and a season I greatly enjoyed. That day The Ducking Stool finished fourth but she was a true star at the course and had won many times before retiring to a good home.

Continue Reading

5 Racecourses I’ve Visited in My Life

I know what you’re saying: “He’s not been to many racecourses.”

That’s true. However, they say small is beautiful. I’m not sure if that works for visiting a small number of racecourses, but it’s good enough for me.

My love of horse racing came from my late father, Colin, who enjoyed a day’s racing at Great Yarmouth, down Jellico Road. It is the reason I visit the course on a regular basis, and still do to this day. A Merry Pilgrimage in memory of family and friends who have sadly long past. I doubt I would have even visited this Norfolk coast if not for that connection.

Horse racing has allowed me to meet some amazing people and real characters.

Here are the racecourses I have visited and the story behind them.

  1. Great Yarmouth

As detailed with my family history, this racecourse was the first and will probably be the last I visit. As a family, my brother and I would stay at the Ladbroke’s Caravan Park at Caister-on-sea. Dad would go to the races, and sometimes we would go with him. It was a time for the family to have a well-earned rest. Such wonderful memories.

In my teenage years, my brother and I would go to Great Yarmouth races with Dad. We’d catch the train from March, change at Ely and Norwich to have a brilliant day at the races. It was pretty tiring to return home on the same day, but it was always worth the effort. It has always been a lucky course. Even to this day, we visit the course regularly, often with my brothers, cousins, and a few friends who we have met along the way. The highlight being the 3-day Eastern Festival which takes place every September.

Great Yarmouth is like coming home.

  1. Huntingdon

One of the few National Hunt racecourses I have visited. The first time I went was a work’s day out organized by my Uncle Alan, who ran a successful plastering business. It was just before Christmas. It was a decent day out. I can’t remember too much about it.

However, I have visited the course in recent years, and it’s a lovely course with lots of bars and restaurants. Being close to home it makes for a good location. I prefer the Flat rather than the National Hunt so it’s not a favoured betting medium but a course I go to out of season.

  1. Kempton Park

This was a long time ago when racing took part on the turf. The only time I visited this racecourse but remember it well. It was a day out was organized by a local pub called The Men of March. The regulars all turned up. I wasn’t a regular, but my cousins were and they said ‘why don’t you come along’. I went with my brother. I enjoyed the day and remember we bet on a two-year-old horse trained by Luca Cumani called Really Brilliant. The horse won easily by four or five lengths. I also remember seeing a bloke with the biggest bundle of money, literally the size of a football. I often wonder who that man was. Kempton was turned into an all-weather course in 2006. The only course I have visited in the big smoke.

  1. Leicester

There is a story behind the one and only time we visit to this course. A long time ago. To be fair, I enjoyed the day out although it was very tiring and there was a sting in the tail. I will go back one day.

However, let’s get back to the day out which must have been at least 30 years ago. There was a reason for us going to Leicester although it was a spur of the moment decision. My brother and I traveled by train from March. I remember it was a bank holiday and that the train stopped at Melton Mowbray, the place famous for making pork pies. By the end of the day, I wish I had stayed there and just tucked in. I could see a fete and it all looked very attractive and fun. However, we were destined for Leicester racecourse.

We got a taxi from the train station to the course. It was heaving with punters and bookmakers were spread thin with only seven or so turned up. We were interested in betting on a horse trained by Sir Michael Stoute called Carnival Spirit. We had no idea what the opening show would be and when the bookie chalked up 6/4f I nearly had a heart attack. We thought it would be 3/1. After traveling so far we felt obliged to bet, almost under duress, and it didn’t turn out well. She led, making all only to be caught in the final furlong finishing third beaten a neck and short-head. Thinking back, I thought it was beaten further. Not that it matters as a loss is a loss. I think we bet £50 which was a decent sum for us. It wasn’t good at all. The winner Terimon, trained by Clive Brittain, went on to finish runner-up to Nashwan in the Epsom Derby (1989) at odds of 500/1. It seemed a long journey home. The good side came when next start we bet £100 on Carnival Spirit who won well at York when dropping down to one mile at odds of 5/4. We watched this comfortable victory at our local bookmakers. Compensation for the prior experience. It put a smile on our face.

5. Fakenham

I have been to Fakenham a couple of times. It’s a lovely National Hunt course, with a friendly atmosphere. It reminded me of a country set with farmers aplenty or people dressed as such. Lots of wax jackets and flat caps. I was struck by the number of dogs at the course and a greyhound with a jacket but shivering with cold. It was absolutely freezing. I went with my cousin, Danny, driven by my old boss Kevin McCourt, who has owned a few decent horses in his time. Also, Buster and Dave Smith. A friendly bunch and a lovely day. I can’t remember if I had a bet or not. I am reminded of the sharp course and one of the jumps a short distance from the finishing line. A near certainty jumping the last fence broke a hind leg. The sigh of the crowd always stuck in my mind. I’ve been a couple of times since. The last time when it was abandoned just before the scheduled start due to waterlogging. We had a pub crawl on the way back so it was, in fact, a very enjoyable day.

Who says you have to go to the course to enjoy a day’s racing!

To think from a lifetime of horse racing I have been to so few racecourses.

Perhaps one day I go to pastures new.

Continue Reading