Doncaster Racecourse Guide
Doncaster Racecourse is one of the biggest and best in the country and home to a number of huge races, both on the level and over obstacles.
In terms of its flat offering, the biggest race is the St Leger, the oldest of the five Classics but it also holds a number of other highly prestigious races. There is certainly a lot more to “Donny” than just the Leger though, so, whether you are after more info on the other big races at the track, practical info on how to get there or to know a little about the course’s history, read on, because it’s all right here.
The St Leger Festival
There can be no doubt that the St Leger is the jewel in Doncaster’s crown. First run in 1776 (yes, you read that right), the St Leger pre-dates the Derby by four years. It is the last leg of the Triple Crown (though that is essentially consigned to history now) and the last of the five Classics to be run each year.
If you want to have a punt on the big race itself or any of the others at the Leger meeting, and want to know a bit more about it first, then be sure to check out our St Leger guide page. For a quicker run down, read on for more information on this prestigious, lucrative and, of course, historic meeting.
What is the St Leger Festival?
There is much more to Doncaster Racecourse than the St Leger Festival and much more to the Festival than one race. That said, for many punters the St Leger Festival is a major seasonal highlight and here is some key info about it.
- The St Leger Festival sees four days of racing
- It is a flat meeting held in September each year
- Action takes place from Wednesday to Saturday with the big race on the Saturday
- The four days are Leger Legends Day, Ladies Day, Gentleman’s Day and St Leger Day
- The St Leger is the only Group 1 race of the meeting
- Other big races include the Leger Legends charity race, Group 2 Doncaster Cup, May Hill Stakes (Group 2) and the Group 2 Champagne Stakes
- The St Leger winner takes home almost £400,000
- The race (and therefore meeting) are named after Anthony St Leger, a local who helped create it
- The Doncaster Cup, first run in 1766, is “the oldest race currently run under the rules of horse racing”
- Ladies Day sees the Silk Series final, the culmination of the female-jockeys-only Silk Series
- The Leger Festival is the biggest late-season meeting in flat racing
Much as the Leger Festival is a huge occasion, in truth it doesn’t have the same depth of quality of racing as some other major meetings. The likes of the Cheltenham Festival and Royal Ascot have many more top level contests. In contrast at Doncaster things are a little more low key, especially on the opening day.
That said, things start to build very nicely through the week and by Saturday we really do have a genuine feast of racing. The St Leger itself is a bucket list occasion for any racing fan and the atmosphere at Doncaster is certainly much better, in our opinion, than you will find at many other courses.
Visiting Doncaster Races
If you want to come to the St Leger, or visit Doncaster for any of the other flat or jumps meetings it holds, here is the key info:
- Location – shock horror, Doncaster Racecourse is located in Doncaster. That’s South Yorkshire, around 20 miles north east of Sheffield. The track is around a mile from the town centre
- Address – Doncaster Racecourse, Leger Way, Doncaster, DN2 6BB
- Contact details – firstname.lastname@example.org or 01302 304200 or via Twitter @DoncasterRaces
- Tickets – tickets start at just £9 in the picnic enclosure for the cheapest race days and early bird Grandstand tickets are £15. Bigger meetings are more expensive and there are a range of ticket and package options.
- Dress code – it varies from one part of the course to another and full details are on the website. Note that fancy dress is permitted in the Grandstand Enclosure, and there is no dress code there or in the Family Enclosure. Smarter dress restrictions are in place elsewhere.
- Transport – Doncaster is one of the easiest tracks around to get to. It has a mainline train station from where you can get a free shuttle, bus, or walk to the course. If driving there are good parking facilities and easy access from the M1, M62 or M18 whilst bus is also an option. From further afield there are a number of airports within an hour’s drive.
- Accommodation – the Hilton Garden Inn is actually at the course and is brilliantly convenient. There are a range of options in Doncaster and the surrounding villages, with Sheffield and Leeds also not too far away.
- Hospitality – Doncaster offers a wide range of corporate and hospitality packages. There are private boxes for groups of 20+, the excellent Club 1776 Marquee, the Garden Suite within the onsite hotel plus various other packages
- Food and drink – there is a good range of food and drink options including bringing your own picnic, food stalls, a food court plus a number of restaurants such as the Conduit Restaurant.
As we have discussed, when it comes to history, Doncaster has it in spades. Doncaster can boast of being the oldest race currently being run under standard rules, the oldest Classic and a whole lot more. But where did it all begin and how did we get to the super-modern facility and world class racing we see today?
Much as the St Leger is incredibly old, as we have seen, racing at Doncaster goes back further. Obviously the Doncaster Cup pre-dates the Classic but, in fact, there has been racing held in the area for much, much longer still.
There are records as far back as 1595 to show that horses were raced in Doncaster, on or near Town Moor, way before the Doncaster Cup came into being in 1766. In 1600 local administrators tried to prevent further racing from taking place, fearing it attracted undesirables, but they didn’t try all that hard and by 1614 they accepted defeat and created a racecourse.
There is little reliable information about the racing in the 17th century at Doncaster but it is believed it took place chiefly on Cantley Common. We can probably assume it was similar to what was taking place elsewhere in the UK. At this time races were generally for the monarchy and aristocracy, first under James I, then Charles I and Charles II.
Slowly the sport became more structured, with rules regarding a range of matters, including jockey weights, being created. At the end of the century the three stallions that would create the modern Thoroughbred bloodstock were brought to the country.
This brought a new aspect to racing and under Queen Anne, Royal Ascot was created at the start of the 18th century. As racing became more and more popular and more formalised, Doncaster saw its first major race that would go on to become a permanent fixture, the aforementioned Doncaster Cup.
That was in 1766 but growing demand meant racing in Doncaster switched to Town Moor, its current home, in 1778. The catalyst for that was, in many ways, the race for which Doncaster is now most famous.
The St Leger is Born
Along with other local racing fans, Major-General Anthony St Leger created a new race. You’ll NEVER guess what it was called. St Leger was an army man and also the MP of mighty Grimsby and he was the brains behind the first running of the St Leger on 24 September 1776.
Initially not known as such, the race name was set the following year and as it became more popular racing moved to its current location, Town Moor, in 1778. The other four Classics of flat racing were established around this period and in 1800 the aptly named Champion was the first horse to win the Derby and St Leger in the same season.
The first ever Triple Crown was landed by West Australian in 1853 and since then just 14 other horses have managed the feat. There have been only two since 1918, and none since the legendary Nijinsky in 1970.
Doncaster has continued to grow and improve and has even stepped in when other courses have fallen by the wayside. Manchester and Lincoln’s racecourses both closed mid-20th century with Doncaster stepping in. In 1963 the former closed and Doncaster took over hosting duties for the historic November Handicap. Similarly, when Lincoln closed its doors in 1964, Doncaster became the home of the Lincoln Handicap, another prestigious and lucrative race that had first been run in the 19th century.
Horses but no Bookies
Doncaster further etched its name into racing history when it hosted the UK’s first ever Sunday race meeting in 1992. A whopping crowd of 23,000 turned out despite the fact there were no bookies open. We can assume people got their bets on early.
Redevelopment and the Future
In 2006 Doncaster underwent extensive redevelopment costing well over £30m. Or for football fans, around the amount Chelsea paid AC Milan that year to sign Andriy Shevchenko. We think Doncaster got better value for money, even if it did mean York hosted the 2006 edition of the St Leger.
Once the renovations were complete, Doncaster was left with a raft of brand new world class facilities for fans, horses, jockeys and connections. The excellent five-storey grandstand is one of the most impressive in the country, with superb suites and private viewing areas perfect for corporate guests (and people with plenty of cash) but also offering a much-improved experience for casual fans too.
All in all Doncaster is thriving and with the St Leger at its heart we expect it to stay at the top of UK racing as a genuinely world class venue.
Biggest Meetings and Races at Doncaster
As said, Doncaster is home to both flat and NH racing and whilst we’ve already looked at its biggest festival, here are some of the other key dates for your Doncaster diary. Most of Doncaster’s meetings centre on a single race, with no major festivals aside from the St Leger.
The cards on the day or days around these big races offer excellent support though and with racing held at the course in all 12 months of the year there is something for everyone.
Vertem Futurity Trophy
This is Doncaster’s other Group 1 race and was known for a long time as the Racing Post Trophy. It takes place in October and is open to two year old colts and fillies, being a key race for Juveniles.
Past winners include Authorized and Camelot and at the time of writing five winners have gone on to land the Derby in the season after. Run over one mile it is always a great race to have an interest in.
The Grimthorpe Handicap Chase
With a name that makes you think of a gritty northern coalminer, the Grimthorpe Handicap is a gruelling slog of more than three miles and two furlongs over the tough ground of February or March. Now thought of as a Grand National trial it is open to horses aged five and above, with former winners including Cloudy Lane, Night in Milan and The Last Samuri.
The Lincoln Handicap
As said, this race’s history lies elsewhere but it is still one of Doncaster’s bigger draws. The one mile race was first held in 1853 and now offers £100,000 to the winner.
We simply have to include the oldest of the lot, the Doncaster Cup. This Group 2 is a great supporting act to the St Leger and at more than two miles is one of the bigger races for the stayers. The winner of the Doncaster Cup is offered entry to the Melbourne Cup, making this contest unique in British racing.
Another juvenile test, this race is for colts and geldings only and is run a shade over seven furlongs during the St Leger Festival. Perhaps the most successful winner in recent times was 2018 champion Too Darn Hot, owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The son of Dubawi landed the Dewhurst in the same year and followed up with the Sussex Stakes in 2019.
First run in 1876 this contest made Donny home in 1964 having been run at Pontefract and the now defunct Castle Irwell Racecourse and also New Barns. A shade under a mile and a half this is one of the more interesting late-season flat contests and takes place on the very last day of the season.
Other Race Days
As you can see, most of Doncaster’s biggest races are on the flat. That said, the course hosts a fairly equal mix of flat and National Hunt racing. There are meetings every single month of the year and many of them have various attractions alongside the racing, such as live music, family days or themed meetings.
The jumps track at Doncaster takes place on the main almost pear-shaped circuit. Generally flat, it is run left-handed and a single circuit is a little under two miles. It is a course that tends to suit speedy gallopers but the pace with which the fences are often taken can lead to falls. Generally a fair track, the fences, especially the last ditch, are slightly more testing than average and the one sharp turn at the tip of the “pear” can also be a challenge.
The flat course is essentially the same with a chute enabling races on the flat of between five furlongs and a mile. There is an alternative one mile course created by a second chute which sees horses take on a sweeping left turn, though this isn’t used much.
The course at Doncaster drains well so, despite the heavy rain that can hit the area, the ground tends to be well managed and never too heavy. The flat course also tends to suit speedier types but obviously on the rare occasions it gets really sticky stamina will be called into play. There is no major draw bias.