The city of Brighton is perhaps best known for its pebbled beach, Green Party MP, vintage pier and love of the arts. Also included among its many attractions is a racecourse that dates back more than two centuries. While it may not attract quite as many visitors as the city’s long coastline, it is still a well-appreciated destination that provides a fun day out during the warmer months.
Rather than being stuck on the extreme outskirts of town, Brighton Racecourse is reasonably central, meaning accommodation is never too far away. The choice on offer is abundant too thanks to Brighton’s thriving tourism scene. It is estimated that the city itself welcomes around 12 million visitors per year and with many staying overnight, this requires a lot of beds and a lot of rooms – more than enough for a course of Brighton’s size to be very well catered for.
Unsurprisingly, much of Brighton’s vast hotel selection is concentrated along the beachfront with guests wanting to enjoy the views of the Channel. There is nothing to be found in the immediate vicinity of the racecourse itself, which is much more residential, but the east side of the seafront is not too far away. The Kemptown area is only around a 20 minute walk from the racecourse and here you will find an abundance of places to stay whether it be larger hotels or smaller B&Bs.
Further Down the Beach
If you are happy to walk a little longer than 20 minutes, or you are happy to take public transport, then are many extra options further west along the beach. Again, there is a real mix of accommodation designed to suit a range of budgets but there is not quite so much at the very lowest end. If you are looking for a stay under £50 a night then you will struggle in Brighton, even if you book well in advance, particularly for a weekend meeting. Entry to the racecourse is on the cheaper side though which helps compensate for this.
Sometimes the best value is found when moving a little north of the seafront, towards the centre of town. Here you will find big chain options such as a Travelodge, Ibis and Jurys Inn. All of these are in easy reach of the racecourse, being around 1.5 miles away, so walkable or fine for an inexpensive taxi.
Lewes for a Quieter Stay
With a bustling nightlife featuring many visitors from further afield, a stay down on Brighton seafront might not necessarily be the quietest, nor for everyone. If you would rather stay somewhere a little more peaceful, then the small town of Lewes is your best bet. There are regular bus services between the two areas, with a stop within walking distance of the racecourse. The bus journey itself will only take around 20 minutes and inside Lewes you will find a small but adequate number of hotels, including a Premier Inn.
About the Racecourse
Towards the end of the 20th century, Brighton Racecourse was not a place we would have really recommended others to visit. Facilities were rather worn down and attendances slumped as a result, meaning there was no real atmosphere at most meetings. Thankfully, £4m was spent on reviving the course in 1998, something that was essential in securing Brighton’s longer-term future.
It is worth mentioning though that Brighton is a particularly small course, compared to many others, with a maximum capacity in the range of 6,000. This does mean it tends to have something of a more relaxed feel to it and there are certain days targeted at family fun with extra entertainment put on for the little ones. Additionally, under 18s do receive free entry (to most fixtures) if accompanied by a paying adult.
For those of you living outside Brighton that want to visit the racecourse, most of you will be best off catching a train service. Brighton Railway Station is a very well served stop with regular connections north to various London stations, to Cambridge and Bedford, as well as Portsmouth and Southampton to the west. Form the train station, some will consider it within walking distance as the journey is 30 minutes by foot. Alternatively, for those who want to save their energy for picking winners, there are a number of different public bus services that will take you there too, many of which pick up just outside the station or close to it.
Typically, racecourses across the country form a complete circuit and these sometimes see runners having to run twice past the finishing post. Brighton is unusual in this sense because it is more of a U shape, with the result being horses can never end up back where they started. It also means Brighton cannot host any especially long races either as there is only about one and a half miles between both ends of the track.
Another thing to bring up is that Brighton is quite a tricky place to race thanks to its rises and falls, turns in both directions and cambers alongside the rail. You will find some horses rather relish the quite unique challenge Brighton provides whereas others would much rather stay in the stable. This does tend to produce a fair share of course specialists so always pay close attention, when placing your bets, to any horse with a good record at the course.
Being a small racecourse, Brighton is generally quite relaxed about things but there are few items of clothing that you should avoid. Sports shirts, ripped denim, casual shorts and flip-flops are all things you should not arrive at the racecourse wearing. Aside from this, there are no other rules policing attire but smart casual is the most widely adopted approach. Whatever you opt for, just ensure it is appropriate for the weather as things can get warm on the south coast.
If you are someone that really loves to dress to impress then there are some feature days at Brighton Racecourse likely to pique your interest. Ladies Day and Gentlemen’s Day both see many patrons make an extra special effort to look as smart as possible. There is a real incentive to try and dazzle too given that there are some excellent prizes up for grabs.
Like many racecourses, Brighton Racecourse operates a two-tiered ticketing system. The ‘standard’ ticket is for the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and this gives guests access to the main, sole grandstand, the parade ring, betting facilities, and food and drink vendors. The grandstand itself is largely covered by a roof and features a mix of seating and standing areas, very close to the track. For most meetings, finding a place under the shaded roof is no hassle but things can get a little congested for bigger events, forcing some spectators to take up a spot by the rail.
There are no other stands at Brighton but what a Premium Enclosure ticket unlocks is access to the Premier Bar, Silks Restaurant and Parade Ring Lawn. This is in addition to everything you get with a Grandstand & Paddock ticket. It is possible to transfer between enclosures on the day should you wish, providing there is space. The general recommendation though, regardless of ticket type, is to purchase in advance. Providing you do so more than 48 hours before the meeting you will save money and tickets do not need printing as you can simply show them on your smartphone.
The only people who may be better off not pre-purchasing in advance are the over 60s and students. These two groups can benefit from a £5 discount on Grandstand & Paddock tickets but only when buying on the gate on the day of the meeting.
During the Flat racing season (April to October) Brighton hosts 21 fixtures, most of which feature in the afternoon but there are usually four evening fixtures too. It does not host any ‘big’ races as almost all events here are relatively low in class with little prize money but this does not mean Brighton is without a major meeting. Every August the racecourse hosts the three-day Brighton Festival which has proven to be a smash hit since its introduction.
By far the biggest meeting at Brighton Racecourse, the Wednesday to Friday event usually welcomes around 15,000 people in total, not far from maximum capacity. Between them the excited racegoers end up getting through around 1,500 bottles of prosecco and 1,000 bowls of fresh strawberries – it is an opportunity to treat yourself after all. The opening day of the meeting sees Brighton’s most valuable race, the Brighton Mile while the always popular Ladies Day, full of glitz and glamour, follows afterwards. Really, you cannot go wrong with any day of this wonderful meeting, which maintains a lively but friendly feel throughout.
Racing first took place in Brighton in 1713 but records show that it was not until 1783 when the first official meeting was held. As is still the case today, this inaugural contest took place on Whitehawk Hill, just a mile away from the coastline. Word quickly spread about Brighton’s racecourse and the year after its full opening the Prince of Wales (later George IV) made a visit. The Prince enjoyed his time so much that he returned with a range of aristocratic friends who enjoyed placing sizeable bets. As well as spectating, much of the royal company ended up racing their own horses at Brighton, acting as a massive boost for the course.
The Birthplace of Hurdles Racing?
Although unconfirmed, it is said that the Prince and his friends were also responsible for the birth of hurdles racing. This allegedly happened when the group started galloping around some nearby farms and began jumping the fences used to contain sheep. Whether this is true, we cannot be sure, but we do know racing has taken place regularly on Whitehawk Hill since the late 1700s.
Although space has always been limited at Whitehawk, in the earlier days, to accommodate longer races, horses would start at the winning post, run to the ‘start’ of the course before turning sharply and heading back. So, some races would briefly have horses running in the opposite direction to one another, something that would no doubt not pass the health and safety regulations of today!
The Railway Brings More Visitors
Eventually the Prince of Wales (and guests) stopped visiting the racecourse and this did have an impact on attendances. Fortunately, things began to pick up around 1850 as the advent of the public railway made it much easier for Londoners to visit the course. Knowing that more punters would be coming to visit, course managers invested enough money to build a brand new stand. Brighton racecourse would enjoy another boom period a full 100 years later, shortly after the end of World War II.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the course could attract as many as 20,000 fans per fixture with racegoers filling both sides of the home straight. Improving in stature, Brighton even got to host a Derby trial race for six years in the 1960s and two of the winners went on to win the St Leger (but not the Derby). A decline in people seeking a traditional seaside holiday did eventually see this boom period fade but before things were able to get too financially perilous, Northern Racing took over as owners in 1998 and successfully revived the racecourse.