Chepstow Racecourse is the busiest and most prestigious of the three courses in Wales. Each year around 30 different meetings take place at the South Wales venue, with visitors coming from across Wales and England to enjoy the combination of National Hunt and Flat racing, as well as some very good hospitality. If you fancy a trip to this course near the Wales/England border, read on for the lowdown on its major meetings, hotel options and more.
Chepstow is only a relatively small town but it does not lack for hotels, guesthouses and other places to stay.
Walkable Possibilities from Town
The closest hotels to Chepstow Racecourse are situated in the town centre. This is a 30 minute walk away which is a bit of a push for most people attending the racing, especially if they have donned their finest! That said, the route is well signposted from the town and on well tarmacked roads, for all that it is uphill (downhill on the way home though!).
If you don’t mind the walk then there are some very good options in Chepstow itself. The First Hurdle Guest House and Racecourse Guest House are used to hosting racegoers with the latter closer to the course itself. Other smaller options include the Boat Inn and Two Rivers pubs which both have accommodation. There are also some larger hotels in town including the Beaufort Hotel and the Wild Hare Tintern, which is recommended by the racecourse itself.
South Wales Stays
Travelling to Chepstow is easy by car or public transport which opens up a whole range of accommodation outside of the town. The St Pierre – Marriot Hotel & Country Club is another of the hotels recommended by the racecourse. The plush hotel is to the south of the town taking it just out of walking distance. Other four and five star hotels can be found even further to the south in Cardiff for those looking for a city stay and who aren’t worried about travelling.
If the buzz of the city is not for you then the best places to stay are to the north of Chepstow. Parkfield bed and breakfast is just up the road in St Arvans, while fancier options are just a little further up the A466.
Chepstow is the eastern most town in Wales. It is very close to the Hereford border, which opens up options for the busiest meetings where nearby accommodation fills up. Bristol and all the hotels there are just half an hour away via the M4 while Gloucester, Bath and Cheltenham are within commuting distance via public transport or car.
About the Racecourse
Chepstow is one of three racecourses in Wales. Set in the south east of the country, it is more accessible than Ffos Las over in the west and it is a busier course than Bangor-on-Dee further north. The proximity to the Severn Bridge means that Chepstow is popular with racing fans from both Wales and England, especially for the feature race of the year, the Welsh Grand National.
Chepstow is set in the large grounds of Piercefield Park and that large acreage provides space for a big racecourse capable of hosting both jumps and Flat racing action. In addition, there is a one-mile straight course which is used throughout the summer months. The size of the course is what allows Chepstow to host both Flat and National Hunt racing, keeping the punters rolling in all year round.
A trip to Chepstow is a festive tradition for many racing fans as the Welsh Grand National meeting always takes place the day after Boxing Day, weather permitting. Welsh racegoers make the trip to Chepstow either across the Severn Bridge from the M4 in England or from the same road eastbound from in and around the cities of Cardiff and Swansea. Wherever drivers come from, the racecourse is easy to find on the A466 which runs from Chepstow to Monmouth.
If you are using public transport, the best bet is to catch a train to Chepstow Train Station and then catch one of the special bus services put on straight to the racecourse. Trains to Chepstow run from throughout Wales and major transport hubs such as Birmingham and Nottingham. From those hubs, services from London, Manchester and the South and West of England can be caught.
Flat and jumps racing takes place on the same course at Chepstow. The oval course is around 2 miles long and there is also a straight mile course with an extended chute feeding into the lengthy straight run-in to the winning post.
Although Chepstow is by no means a sharp test, it’s not ideal for gallopers because the terrain is so undulating. There are a couple of climbs going out in the round course then it’s relatively flat until the home straight which has two undulations ending with a climb to the line. Horses running on the straight course have to contend with a downhill start which can sometimes force too strong a pace early on. The undulations make Chepstow a real test of stamina when the ground is soft but when it’s firmer under foot you’ll often see some very quick times on the Flat.
The dress code at Chepstow varies for different meetings. The majority of days at the course are what the course call ‘one-enclosure events’. As the name suggests, this means that there is one type of ticket available to the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure. The dress code at these meetings is simple. Officially smart casual, it’s actually very relaxed with t-shirts, jeans, trainers and even fancy dress allowed.
It’s a different story for the biggest meetings at Chepstow at which the course operates hospitality options. While the same dress code applies for the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure, it is more restrictive in the Premier Enclosure and hospitality areas. In both, smart casual means formal shoes only, not sportswear and no fancy dress. As a day out at Chepstow’s premier offering is often a big deal for racegoers, many dress up even smarter than the rules dictate.
The Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure encompasses the main stand at Chepstow. Tickets for this general admission section of the course allow access to the Grandstand with its views over the finishing straight. There are several food options for racegoers to choose from and a bar with a wide selection of drinks.
Hospitality options at Chepstow are housed in the Premier Enclosure. A ticket to the Premier Enclosure comes with a badge that allows access to all public areas, as well as the Premier Grandstand, which has superior views of the course. Those looking for a more exclusive day out at Chepstow Racecourse can do so at the biggest meetings when the View Restaurant is open. The excellent food from this restaurant can either be enjoyed in a large room with other hospitality ticket holders or in one of Chepstow’s private suites.
Chepstow is among the busier racecourses in Britain. As a host of both National Hunt and Flat racing, a typical calendar at Chepstow includes 30+ races. Chepstow does a very good job of putting on enjoyable race meetings for families throughout the year but there is no doubt that in terms of prestige and the quality of racing it’s the jumps that has the edge over the action on the level.
The first jumps meeting of the season at Chepstow does a great job of whetting the appetite for what’s to come. The Jumps Season Opener is quickly followed by some decent afternoon racecards but the main event comes two days after Christmas with the Welsh Grand National.
Welsh Grand National
The Welsh Grand National is the biggest prize in all of Welsh racing. Its transfer to Chepstow in 1949 was the major reason as to why National Hunt racing superseded Flat racing at the venue and it has continued to go from strength to strength. The prestige of the race grew all the stronger when it found a permanent home in the calendar on 27 December. The marathon Grade 3 handicap is supported by a strong card including the Finale Juvenile Hurdle, one of only three Grade 1 juvenile hurdles in Britain.
Christmas Jumper Raceday
The traditional warm up for the Welsh Grand National is Christmas Jumper Raceday. This popular day of racing is held in early December and is a chance for racing fans in the south Wales borders to really get into the festive spirit. The big race of the day is the Welsh Grand National Trial. It’s run over a distance of just under three miles and is a chance for connections to see whether their horses have what it takes to contest the big race later in the month.
Jumps Season Opener
The Jumps Season Opener is a cracking way to kick things off in autumn at Chepstow. The meeting is spread over two days and is high class right from the start. Friday’s featured race is the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle, a Grade 2 contest named after the three-time Champion Hurdle winner who was trained near Chepstow. Saturday’s card contains some competitive handicaps including the Grade 3 Silver Trophy Hurdle and a Listed novices’ chase.
As with many parts of the British Isles, racing has a long history in this part of Wales. It stretches back to the late 19th century including at St Arvans, which is very close to the current site. The history of Chepstow itself is a little more recent, being born as the idea of 10 businessmen with ties to the area in the early 1920s.
1926: First Meeting
The group, which included members of the gentry, clubbed together to buy Piercefield House and the estate’s 370 acres. It took three years of labour for the racecourse to be completed and it all looked worth it when 20,000 turned up to the first meeting on 6 August 1926. Jumps racing began the following March but the course struggled early on and repeatedly had to raise financing in the form of loans.
1949: Jumps Racing Takes Over
Things didn’t really improve until after World War II. Chepstow itself was used as an operational outpost by the RAF during the conflict but was able to return as a racecourse unlike nearby venues at Cardiff and Caerleon. That meant the transferring of the Welsh Grand National to Chepstow in 1949, a major boost to the course. From that point on, jumps racing took precedence over Flat racing at Chepstow. Powerful yards sent horses to Chepstow with increasingly regularity from then on and even more so after 1966 when the Severn Bridge opened making journeys from England much easier.
Arena Racing Company
Chepstow is now one of Arena Racing Company’s (ARC) 16 racecourses in Britain. It became part of ARC thanks to previous owner Sir Stanley Clarke. The former owner of Northern Racing and executive chairman of the Racecourse Company (ARC’s predecessor) built up an 80% stake in Chepstow shortly after it was listed on the AIM stock exchange by the long-time racecourse operators the Clay family.