Chester Racecourse, known as the Roodee, is officially recognised by the Guinness World Records as the oldest racecourse still in operation . Horse racing at Chester dates back to the early sixteenth century, with 1539 cited as the year racing began. It is also thought to be the smallest racecourse of significance in England at 1 mile and 1 furlong (1.8 km) long.
|Owned by||Chester Race Company Ltd.|
|Screened on||Sky Sports Racing|
The 65-acre (26-hectare) racecourse lies on the banks of the River Dee. The site was once a harbour during the Roman settlement of the city during the Dark Ages, but was closed as the river silted up thus making navigation impossible. Towards the centre of the in field is a raised mound which is decorated by a small cross known as a "rood". It is from this that the race course derives the name "Roodee"; Roodee is a corruption of "Rood Eye", meaning "The Island of the Cross".
According to legend the cross marks the burial site of a statue of the Virgin Mary sentenced to hang after causing the death of Lady Trawst, the wife of the Governor of Hawarden. The legend states that she had gone to church to pray for rain but when her prayers were answered by a tremendous thunderstorm the statue was loosened and fell, killing her. As a holy object, hanging or burning the statue would be sacrilege so the statue was left by the banks of the river and the tide carried it down to Chester. The statue was found guilty by a jury of 12 men. If the legend is true, then this is the first recorded case of a jury being used in a court.
In an alternate version of the legend, the statue was instead carried to St John's Church. An ancient statue of the Virgin was recorded at the time of the reformation but may not be the same one. The statue was thrown down as a relic of popery, used as a whipping post for scholars and burned.
Less fanciful is a report from 1840 that the stone obelisk is the base of a cross that marked the boundary of the Benedictine Nunnery, the nunnery having been created in the mid 12th century, and dissolved in January 1540. The cross was known as the Rood Dee (the Dee cross), to distinguish it from the cross at St. Peter's Church.
The east of the race course abuts directly onto Chester's ancient city walls which were once used to moor Roman trading vessels, before the course of the river changed. Spectators can watch races for free from the walls which offer a clear view of the whole circuit. The Grosvenor Bridge, at one time the longest single arch bridge in the world, passes over the south-eastern corner. The north of the course is bordered by a long railway bridge carrying the North Wales Coast Line over the River Dee. The course is overlooked from the opposite bank of the river by the mansions of Curzon Park, which can be seen dominating the skyline from any of the three grandstands.
The Chester Racecourse site was home to the famous and bloody Goteddsday football match. The game was very violent and, in 1533, banned by the city, to be replaced in 1539 by horse racing. The first recorded race was held on 9 February 1539 (although other sources list this as 10 January 1511) with the consent of the Mayor Henry Gee, whose name led to the use of the term "gee-gee" for horses. Races originally took place on Goteddsday (Shrove Tuesday) until 1609, and thereafter on St George's Day, both major festivals during the medieval period. Victors were awarded the "Chester Bells", a set of decorative bells for decorating the horse's bridle, and from 1744 the "Grosvenor Gold Cup", a small tumbler made from solid gold (later silver). In 1745, the meeting became a four-day one, with one race on each day. In 1766 a May Festival was introduced, and in 1824, the Tradesmen's Cup Race (the predecessor to the Chester Cup) was also introduced.
The racecourse was at that point still just an open field, with the first grandstand finished in 1817 and the first admittance fee not being taken until 1897. The stand was rebuilt in 1899–1900, and was replaced after being destroyed by arson in 1985.
The racecourse's position in the city makes race meetings at Chester very popular as it is only a very short stroll to all the hotels, bars, shopping and restaurants. The racecourse itself is just over 1-mile (1.6 km) long, flat and raced anti-clockwise or left-handed. The main characteristic of the course is the very short straight (239 yards). As such, long-strided horses, which perform better on straights, are at a distinct disadvantage.
In 2008, a restaurant opened at the racecourse, named "1539", after the first year that horse racing took place in Chester.
In May 2012, all former Tote betting positions were replaced by the racecourse's own in-house chesterBET betting system.
In 2013 a new pub and restaurant called The White Horse was opened in the centre of the Course.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2008)
|May||Festival||Wednesday||Cheshire Oaks||Flat||Listed||1m 3f 79y||3yo only f|
|May||Festival||Wednesday||Chester Vase||Flat||Group 3||1m 4f 66y||3yo only|
|May||Festival||Thursday||Ormonde Stakes||Flat||Group 3||1m 5f 89y||4yo +|
|May||Festival||Thursday||Dee Stakes||Flat||Listed||1m 2f 75y||3yo only|
|May||Festival||Friday||Huxley Stakes||Flat||Group 2||1m 2f 75y||4yo +|
|May||Festival||Friday||Chester Cup||Flat||Handicap||2m 2f 147y||4yo +|
- Other races
- Marcus Armytage (6 May 2008). "Chester racecourse moves with the times". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 May 2008.
- "Feud, Glorious Feud". Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment. Season 1. 1 June 2008.
- The Roodee Chester, Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser, Friday 08 May 1840, p4 (citing an article from the Chester Gazette)
- A P Baggs, Ann J Kettle, S J Lander, A T Thacker and David Wardle, 'House of Benedictine nuns: The priory of Chester', in A History of the County of Chester: Volume 3, ed. C R Elrington and B E Harris (London, 1980), pp. 146-150. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/ches/vol3/pp146-150 [accessed 23 June 2020].
- Saunders, Otley 1863, p. 108.
- Saunders, Otley 1863, p. 110.
- 1539 Restaurant
- Horse-Racing: Its History and Early Records of the Principal and other Race Meetings with Anecdotes etc. London: Saunders, Otley & Co. 1863. Retrieved 26 April 2013.