Chepstow Racecourse Guide
Of the 59 racecourses on the British mainland, a total of three are located in Wales. And of that trio, comfortably the largest lies in the south-eastern county of Monmouthshire. Situated just to the north of the town from which it takes its name, Chepstow Racecourse has been providing racegoers with quality entertainment for closing in on a hundred years now and shows no signs of slowing down.
A dual-purpose venue, this picturesque track stages flat racing during the summer, with the winter months then dominated by the jumps. And it is the National Hunt fare for which the track is best known, with highlights including the richest contest of the Welsh racing season. Here we take a closer look at this hugely popular venue, including details of the biggest races and information for those looking to visit the course.
Welsh Grand National Festival
The festive season is amongst the most eagerly anticipated times of year for sports fans; a packed schedule of football fixtures, Kempton’s Boxing Day George Meeting and just one day later, on the 27th of December, the biggest day on the Welsh racing calendar, bar none, as Chepstow plays host to the staying showpiece that is the Welsh Grand National.
Welsh Grand National Meeting
The highlight of the Welsh season ever since the inaugural edition back in 1895, the Welsh Grand National has been staged at Chepstow since 1949, and remains one of the first dates pencilled into the diaries of local racing fans, and those from further afield.
- Enjoying a prime slot in the midst of the holiday season, this one-day day fixture invariably attracts a capacity crowd of 12,000 to the Monmouthshire venue.
- A total of seven races make up the Welsh Grand National card, with the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle being the clear standout amongst the supporting cast.
- The main event takes place over a stamina-sapping trip of 3m5½f and features a total of 23 fences.
- Welsh Grand National winners Corbiere, Earth Summit, Bindaree and Silver Birch all also won the English version of the race.
- Regularly attracting truly top-class stayers, winners Burrough Hill Lad, Cool Ground, Master Oats, Synchronised and Native River backed up Welsh Grand National success with a win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
- The £150,000 in total prize money on offer makes the Welsh Grand National the most valuable event of the Welsh season.
- The rags-to-riches tail of 2009 winner Dream Alliance was the inspiration behind the 2020 movie Dream Horse.
Visiting Chepstow Races
An attractive destination for fans of both racing codes, Chepstow combines quality racing with beautiful scenery and top-class facilities. It is a track that is well worth a visit and, for those considering making the trip, the following information may come in handy.
- Location – The course lies to the north of the town of Chepstow, just across the English border.
- Address – Chepstow Racecourse, St Lawrence Road, Chepstow, NP16 6 BE
- Contact details – email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 01291 622 260, Twitter: @Chepstow_Racing
- Tickets – There are two main enclosures in operation at Chepstow; the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure, and The Premier Enclosure. Ticket prices vary according to the type of meeting, with full details available via the track’s official website.
- Dress code – Smart casual is the recommended dress code in the Grandstand & Paddock enclosure. Stricter conditions apply in the Premier Enclosure and hospitality areas, where racegoers should arrive smartly attired, including smart shoes, and avoid sportswear and fancy dress.
- Transport – Chepstow Racecourse sits on the A466 and enjoys good road links with England via the Severn Bridge and M4. Chepstow Train Station is around a 25-minute walk, or five-minute taxi ride from the track and is frequently served by trains arriving from a number of the UK’s major cities. A shuttle bus service, priced at just £1 for a single, will ferry racegoers from the station to the course on race days.
- Accommodation – A diverse selection of hotels and guesthouses reside within the town of Chepstow – including the appropriately named The First Hurdle Guesthouse – all of which are within easy travelling distance of the course.
- Hospitality – Chepstow offers a range of excellent hospitality packages, including fine dining in The View Restaurant, and a range of Private Box experiences. For full details see the hospitality section of the track website.
- Food and Drink – The track provides a varied range of food and drinks options, including the Grandstand & Paddock Grill, the Gin & Fizz Lounge, and the swish 1926 Bar of the Premier Enclosure.
South Welsh racing history dates back to the late 19th century, with the track at St Arvans, which is situated close to Chepstow, staging events between 1892 and 1914. Racing at the current venue then began around 10 years later.
Overcoming Early Struggles
It was in 1925 that a consortium of 10 local businessmen and gentry clubbed together to form a company and purchase the Piercefield House Estate, with the aim of laying out a racecourse amidst the 370 acres of available land.
Completing the work at a fairly rapid pace, the track then staged its inaugural meeting on the 6th of August 1926, attracting a bumper crowd of 20,000 enthusiastic racegoers. Initially, a flat-only venue, early highlights at the track included a two-day fixture labelled as “The Welsh Goodwood”.
Despite this popularity, the early 20th century was a difficult period for Welsh racing, with the tracks at Abergavenny, Brecon, Monmouth, Nearny, Tenby and Usk all forced into closure. Chepstow wasn’t immune to these financial issues, ultimately saved by a large bank loan in its early years of operation.
Buoyed by the introduction of jumps racing in March 1927 and the establishment of the now-defunct Welsh Derby, the Welsh Oaks and the Welsh St Leger, the track soon took its place as Wales’s premier racing venue.
Sir Gordon the Great, WWII and the Welsh National
The greatest riding achievement in the history of the course came in 1933 when, over the course of a two-day meeting, Gordon Richards achieved the remarkable feat of riding the winner in 11 consecutive contests – narrowly missing out on making it a round dozen when finishing second in the 12th contest of the meeting.
Like many British racecourses, the track was forced into closure during the Second World War – in Chepstow’s case as a result of being requisitioned for use as an RAF site, complete with a grass runway up the centre of the course.
The financial difficulties which had blighted Welsh racing did not disappear following the conclusion of the war, with the tracks at Cardiff and Caerleon being the next to be consigned to the history books. The closure of that latter track however resulted in a huge boost for Chepstow, with the course selected as the new home of the Welsh Grand National in 1949. And there it has remained ever since. A huge success almost from the off, the track’s flagship contest has benefitted from the support of Coral for over 40 years now – creating the second-longest continually running sponsorship in the sport.
Into the Modern Era
Having received that significant boost in profile with the addition of the Welsh Grand National, the 1960s saw the track benefit from a pair of non-racing-related developments. The completion of the M4 motorway in 1961 swiftly followed by the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966 resulted in much stronger links with Southern England and a subsequent boost in average attendances. Now part of the Arena Racing Company, the track’s position as the jewel in Welsh racing’s crown is more firmly established than ever.
Other Meetings & Races at Chepstow
Think of Chepstow and thoughts naturally turn to the Welsh Grand National meeting which has become such a staple of the festive sporting season. There’s plenty more going on at this excellent year-round venue though, with the following fixtures all well worth a look.
Silver Trophy Meeting
Chepstow kicks the National Hunt season off in style with this two-day early-October fixture. Traditionally taking place on a Friday and Saturday, the opening day’s card is lit up by one of the track’s classiest events in the shape of the Grade 2 Persian War Novices Hurdle, with the big betting handicap of the titular Ayr Silver Trophy the main event on Saturday.
Big Bank Holiday Raceday
There are few things to top a day at the races on a Summer Bank Holiday, and Chepstow does its bit to ensure Welsh racegoers don’t miss out on the fun with this excellent flat fixture in August. Handicapping and novice action provide the racing fare, but this meeting is all about the atmosphere. Featuring a whole host of additional entertainment, including funfair rides, face painting and trampolines, there’s fun for all the family at this summer highlight.
Everyone loves a racing fixture dedicated to the fairer sex and things are no different in Wales. Taking place in July, Chepstow certainly pulls out all the stops at this Friday evening fixture labelled as the track’s most stylish of the year. A six-race card of handicapping action ensures the punters have plenty to get stuck into, whilst the competition is just as fierce in the “Best Dressed” competition with excellent cash prizes up for grabs. Throw in live music from a big-name act – Madness, Tom Jones, UB40, Simply Red and… erm… Peter Andre have all performed in the past – and it is no surprise that this meeting regularly sells out quickly.
Biggest Races at Chepstow
There is no doubt that it is the Welsh Grand National which really puts this track on the map. However, that showpiece contest is just one of five quality contests rated at Listed level or above.
- Welsh Grand National, Welsh Grand National Meeting – Grade 3, 3m5f110y
- Finale Juvenile Hurdle, Welsh Grand National Meeting – Grade 1, 2m110y
- Persian War Novices’ Hurdle, Silver Trophy Meeting – Grade 2, 2m3½f
- Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle, Silver Trophy Meeting – Grade 3, 2m3½f
- Robert Mottram Memorial Trophy, Silver Trophy Meeting – Listed, 2m3½f
Both the National Hunt and flat action take place on the same course at Chepstow. Broadly oval, the left-handed course is approximately 1m7f in circumference, featuring long straight sections and fairly tight turns. When viewed from above it would appear that this would be a course well suited to the galloping type of performer. However, this doesn’t tell the full story, with many long-striding sorts struggling to deal with the severe undulations throughout – the five-furlong home straight in particular resembles something of a rollercoaster.
Those tackling the chase course are faced with 11 fences per circuit: six in the backstretch, and five in the home straight, before a long run in of just over a furlong. The fences themselves aren’t unduly difficult, but if there is to be an error it is most likely to come at the open ditch four from home, or at the final flight due to the fairly steep downhill approach. Events over the smaller obstacles feature seven flights of hurdles per lap, the final three of which lie in the home straight.
The type of runner favoured on the jumps course is entirely dependent upon the ground. On good or quicker going front runners and prominent racers boast an excellent record. Should the rain arrive, however, stamina is very much the order of the day. Thanks to a slow-draining clay sub-soil, the going can quickly become very testing around here, ruthlessly exposing any stamina limitations of the contenders.
In addition to the main oval, the flat course also features a three-furlong spur leading into the home straight, enabling all contests at up to a mile to take place on an entirely straight course. Straight but not level, with the straight track, initially descending, then rising back uphill, before descending again towards the line.
The flat track tends to place an emphasis upon stamina overall, with those who like to get on with things on the front end generally going well. Demanding both stamina and balance, Chepstow presents something of a unique challenge, making any runner with solid previous course form well worth a second look in the betting.
Over five furlongs and six furlongs, those drawn towards either rail hold a definite advantage over those drawn in the centre. That same trend applies to events on the round course, with the only real outlier being the races over seven furlongs on the straight course in which high numbers have the edge.