Situated on the west coast of Scotland, Ayr is not the most accessible racecourse you will find in Britain. It is, however, one with a very fine reputation, boasting both a Racehorse Owners Association Gold Standard Award and a five-star visitor attraction rating from VisitScotland.
While the journey to the racecourse may be a fair trek for many, most would agree it is a trip worth making for this multiple-award winning venue. And, of course, you can stay over for a night or two to make that journey even more worthwhile, with Ayr a pleasant town in its own right.
Many people are unaware that Ayr is actually a beach town with both the sea and sand just a few minutes’ walk away from the city centre. Certainly, for summer race meetings, staying a little longer in Ayr to allow for some time at the seaside is something well worth considering.
Options Just a Stroll Away
Whatever reason you want to stay overnight in Ayr though, there are lots of affordable options very near to the racecourse. A matter of metres down the road you have places such as the extremely popular Western House Hotel, which was the former meeting place of the Western Meeting Club, plus a couple of B&Bs. Should you head the other way down Whitletts Road, after about 25 minutes you will find both a Travelodge and Premier Inn, the latter being known as the ‘Racecourse Hotel’.
Town Centre for More Choice
For a wider variety of choice, you simply need to head into the centre of Ayr which is still firmly within walking distance but also just a short taxi away. Here you will find a selection of large hotels and smaller guesthouses. Overall, there are about 15 different possibilities so the choice is more than sufficient. Newton-on-Ayr, situated just slightly to the north, is also home to a small number of options and is perhaps better suited for anyone looking to visit any of Ayr’s three golf clubs.
For All Major Chains It’s Glasgow to Go To
Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, is around 40 miles north east of Ayr, and if you want to have your full pick of all the best hotels in Scotland, this is the place to go. Road and rail links are reasonable and either way it should take around an hour. As well as a huge number of smaller hotels, all the key chains spanning all budgets are present and in the unlikely event of Ayr’s hotels being very busy, Glasgow is a very decent option indeed.
About the Racecourse
Ayr Racecourse is the only Grade 1 track in Scotland so it is the best the country has to offer. During the full year it hosts 29 fixtures, 17 flat racing and 12 jump racing. To visit, you will want to pre-book your tickets either by buying them online or via the phone (01292 264179). Digitally purchased tickets will be sent to you via email and you can show them on your smartphone upon arriving at the racecourse. Small discounts are available to all should you purchase tickets more than six weeks in advance, or at least a week in advance if you are a senior citizen.
As for how to get yourself to the venue, the racecourse is just a couple of minutes from the A77 which runs all the way down the south east coast (turning into the A78 north of Ayr). A-road connections take you to the likes of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Carlisle so it’s main road driving virtually the whole way. From Glasgow, the nearest major city to Ayr, the drive takes around 55 minutes. When you arrive, getting your car parked is not remotely problematic as Ayr has a free and large car park located next to the Tesco Extra by the racecourse.
If travelling by public transport, in most cases you will want to head to Ayr’s main train station, located a 20-minute walk from the course. Regular trains from Glasgow Central run to the heart of Ayr and it is also possible to get a direct connection from Kilmarnock too. Some of the trains from Glasgow make a limited number of stops but there is a regular slower service that hits lots of smaller stations along the way. Should this be the next available service, you will find it is quicker to head out at Newton-on-Ayr as this earlier stop is marginally closer to the racecourse.
Flat and National Hunt racing takes place on a left-handed oval track at Ayr. For sprint races, Ayr also has a straight track that branches off from this oval, allowing runners to simply gallop in a straight line. One thing you may well notice about the course is that it is quite wide and this allows Ayr to host high-capacity races featuring up to 28 runners.
Another thing worth being aware of is that if Ayr is on the receiving end of sustained periods of rain (not uncommon), the ground can become extremely energy-sapping for the horses involved. Should the official reading be ‘heavy’ you will want to keep an eye on horses that have plenty of stamina.
There is not too much to worry about regarding the dress code at Ayr. In the hospitality areas and/or Club Stand, smart casual wear is fully acceptable but this must not include any ripped denim and/or trainers. In the Grandstand, no formal dress code applies so feel free to come in your comfiest trainers should you wish. While this is the standard policy, Ayr do make a point of saying that the type of fixture should influence what you wear. Meeting such as QTS Ladies Night and Ayr Gold Cup Ladies Day are quite glamorous affairs with both the ladies and gents making a real effort to impress.
The most basic ticket option at Ayr racecourse grants you access to the main grandstand plus the sports bar situated on the ground floor of the Princess Royale Stand. Patrons in this area will be able to walk right up at the parade ring to see the soon-to-be-racing nags have a relaxed stroll around.
The more expensive ‘Club Ticket’ or ‘Club Badge’ permits access to the first floor of the panoramic Princess Royal Suite which Ayr believes to be one of the top grandstand facilities in the United Kingdom. As well as the superior views that directly overlook the finishing post, Club Badge holders can also pop into the Champagne Bar and Gardens. You will find this is the perfect place to sit out and enjoy the sunshine on a warm summer’s afternoon.
Ayr has two major meetings each year, one featuring flat racing and the other covering jump racing. For the high-profile jumps meeting, Ayr does have a tendency to sell out its 19,000 capacity venue so tickets should be bought a fair way in advance if looking to attend this fixture.
Scottish Grand National Festival
Although this is a two-day affair, it is the second day (Saturday), which never fails to attract a much larger and often sell-out crowd. The Friday merely serves to raise the anticipation levels for the much-hyped Scottish Grand National that follows the day after. Although it does not quite match the English equivalent, held at Aintree a week earlier, in terms of stature, it is still a massive occasion and the richest race Scotland has to offer. It is also the second most valuable handicap in Britain behind the English Grand National and this allows the contest to attract a very high calibre of contenders.
The race consistently sees 20+ runners competing for the coveted prize and this makes it an extremely enthralling betting spectacle. You can hear the roar as the leading contenders gallop around the final bend to head into the home straight as there is so much cash riding on the outcome. If you manage to make the right call in this race, you will almost always be richly rewarded as just like its Aintree equivalent, it is not an easy one to predict.
Ayr Gold Cup Festival
When it comes to the highlight of Ayr’s flat season, there is no other contender than the three-day Ayr Gold Cup Festival that takes place in September. Much like with the Grand National Festival, it is the final day that always proves a climatic one because it sees the main event. In this case, as the name of the fixture suggests, the show-stopping race is the Ayr Gold Cup. It is a superb contest that always attracts a lot of interest from trainers and owners. As a result, you will regular see fields of 20+ line-up on Ayr’s 6f straight track as they run, side by side, down to the finish,a true cavalry charge.
As a historic race, first founded in 1804, part of the reason why this race is so special, and indeed so popular, is because of its past. It is however, much like the Scottish Grand National, just a superb betting event due to the number of runners involved. It takes a little over a minute for the race to finish but in that time you are likely to go through a wide-range of emotions, hopefully ending with pure joy – and a few quid extra in your pocket.
With these the two highlight fixtures of the season, you will have to pay more to get in. Prices for Gold Cup day for instance will cost you £30 (Grandstand) or £52 (Club). Ladies Day on the Friday also comes at a slight premium with Grandstand tickets £25 and Club tickets £33.
Historians have found evidence that horse racing took place at Ayr as early as 1576 but it was a long time after this before the town witnessed its first official meeting. Its inaugural fixture was a two-day affair, following nearly two centuries later in 1771. The Gold Cup, which still runs today, was introduced not long after this, first appearing in 1804. Two decades after the race featured, the Western Meeting was established thanks to the Western Meeting Club and this meeting is what we now call the Gold Cup Festival.
1907: Moved from Seafield to Current Location
In these earlier years, racing at Ayr took place at Seafield but the course moved to its current location in 1907. The former Seafield site was later turned into a recreational area, currently known, rather unimaginatively, as the Old Racecourse Playing Fields. The move was ultimately a forced one as Ayr’s original course was simply too small, an oval barely a mile in length and with no room to extend the paddock. Its predecessor is substantially bigger with a full circuit coming in at a mile-and-a-half, plus space to accommodate up to 19,000 racegoers.
1950: Changed to National Hunt Course
For over two centuries, all Ayr had ever hosted, across courses, was flat racing but this finally changed in 1950 as they established a National Hunt course, as well. This track received a massive boost in 1966 as the Scottish Grand National permanently moved to Ayr following the closure of Bogside Racecourse a year earlier. This helped put Ayr on the map but as the decades passed, Ayr became in desperate need of major investment. As such a bidding process was created in 2002, attracting 41 offers. The winning offer came from Ayrshire businessmen Richard Johnstone and Alan Macdonald. Since then, the course has seen over £20m worth of improvements including the £4.5m Ayrshire Suite, opened in 2008.