Chester Racecourse, also known as the Roodee, is a racecourse located in Chester, England. The horse racing venue is officially recognised by Guinness World Records as the "oldest racecourse still in operation".[1][2] Horse racing in Chester dates back to the early sixteenth century, with 1539 cited as the year racing began, although some sources give a date of 1512 for the first races in Chester.[3] It is also thought to be the smallest racecourse of significance in England at 1 mile and 1 furlong (1.8 km) long.

Chester Racecourse logo
LocationChester, Cheshire
Owned byChester Race Company Ltd.
Screened onSky Sports Racing
Course typeFlat
Official website
The racecourse stands, with the city walls visible in the right of the image.
View across the Roodee to Curzon Park on the South bank of the River Dee.

History edit

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 Early Middle Ages, sometimes referred to as 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", and is sometimes seen as "roody" in early sources.[3]

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.[4]

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[5] 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.[6] The cross was known as the Rood Dee (the Dee cross), to distinguish it from the cross at St. Peter's Church.

The site was formerly the home of the original Chester Midsummer Watch Parade, temporarily banned by Oliver Cromwell but finally abolished in 1677.

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 (shared with the Shrewsbury–Chester 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 Welsh border is roughly a mile west of the racecourse.

Horse Racing edit

Aerial view of the Racecourse.

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[7] and some as 1512[3]) with the consent of the Mayor Henry Gee, whose name led to the use of the term "gee-gee" for horses.[2] 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 three decorative bells for decorating the horse's bridle, for winning a race five times round the "roody"[3] 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.[8] 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.

Today edit

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 (219 m)). As such, long-strided horses, which perform better on straights, are at a distinct disadvantage.

On 19 August 2006, Irish vocal pop band Westlife held a concert for their Face to Face Tour supporting their album Face to Face.

In 2008, a restaurant opened at the racecourse, named "1539", after the first year that horse racing took place in Chester.[9]

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.

The main race meetings at Chester were often broadcast on Channel 4 Racing until 2016 and have been broadcast on ITV Racing since 2017.

The Clerk of the Course is Andrew Morris, who is also Clerk of the Course for sister course Bangor-on-Dee, which is a National Hunt jumps course.

Chester Racecourse has continually evolved to meet the needs and desires of modern racing fans, blending its rich history with a forward-thinking approach. In 2023, the racecourse introduced a state-of-the-art digital betting platform, which has enhanced the overall visitor experience[10]

In 2023, Chester Racecourse continues to uphold its legacy as one of the oldest and most vibrant racecourses in the United Kingdom. This year, the venue hosts a diverse range of events, including the prestigious May Festival, the Chester Cup, and Ladies Day, offering a blend of thrilling races, fashion, and entertainment.

In addition to horse racing, the racecourse grounds serve as a venue for various other events throughout the year, including concerts, food festivals, and outdoor cinema screenings. Chester Racecourse has also broadened its culinary offerings, catering to a wide range of tastes from casual street food to fine dining experiences.[11]

2023 also saw the introduction of a dynamic pricing system for Chester Races, designed to reward early bookings. The new system ensures the lowest ticket price at the point of checkout when tickets are added to the customer's basket, encouraging visitors to secure their spots at the events well in advance.

Notable races edit

Month Meeting DOW Race Name Type Grade Distance Age/Sex
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

References edit

  1. ^ "Chester honoured with Guinness title of oldest racecourse still in operation | Horse Racing News | Racing Post".
  2. ^ a b Marcus Armytage (6 May 2008). "Chester racecourse moves with the times". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 May 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d Cawthorne & Herod 1902, p. 3.
  4. ^ "Feud, Glorious Feud". Tony Robinson's Crime and Punishment. Season 1. 1 June 2008.
  5. ^ The Roodee Chester, Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser, Friday 08 May 1840, p4 (citing an article from the Chester Gazette)
  6. ^ 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 [accessed 23 June 2020].
  7. ^ Saunders, Otley 1863, p. 108.
  8. ^ Saunders, Otley 1863, p. 110.
  9. ^ 1539 Restaurant
  10. ^ "Chester Racecourse: A Blend of Tradition and Innovation". Pandemic Tours. Joaquin Contreras. 12 May 2023. Retrieved 12 May 2023.
  11. ^ "A Day at the Races: The Exciting World of Chester Horse Racing Unveiled". Pandemic Tours. Joaquin Contreras. 12 May 2023. Retrieved 12 May 2023.

Bibliography edit

External links edit

53°11′11″N 2°53′59″W / 53.18639°N 2.89972°W / 53.18639; -2.89972