Watching live racing at Chester Racecourse is something people have done for centuries. In fact, the Roodee, as it is also called, holds the world record for being the oldest active racecourse on the planet. Adding to Chester’s uniqueness is its location, nestled not only in the heart of the city centre but also running alongside the River Dee.
As mentioned above, Chester Racecourse is virtually slap bang in the middle of the city. What this means for anyone looking to stay overnight after/before a racing fixture is that there is an abundance of hotels very close by.
On the Doorstep
A couple of these many accommodation options are quite literally around the corner from the racecourse. The Holiday Inn Express Chester Racecourse manages to overlook the course itself and is only a matter of metres from the main entrance. Within a five-minute walk, you have two four-star options in the Crowne Plaza Chester and the ABode Chester, the latter of which sits across from the south-east corner of the course.
A Quick Walk
While the above covers all the options that are within a five-minute radius on foot, if you are happy to walk a little further, say 10 or 15 minutes, you will find well over 10 additional possibilities. All located in the heart of Chester, these include examples like The Saddle Inn, Travelodge Chester Central, Travelodge Chester Central Bridge Street, The Townhouse Chester and the Coach House Inn.
The bulk of these options are very well-rated by guests, so having a comfortable and affordable stay in Chester is easily done on most race days. Further options are available closer to the train station and anything located on the racecourse-side of the tracks remains firmly within a pleasant walking range (no more than approximately 20 minutes).
Liverpool: The Nearest Big City Option
Chester is a lovely place to stay but as far as British cities go, it is quite small. As a result, some racegoers prefer to head to a place with a bit more hustle and bustle following an afternoon of racing entertainment. For this, although Manchester is definitely a viable option, the cheapest and most convenient place to head to is Liverpool. Trains from Chester will take you right into the centre of Liverpool and from here you will have no shortage of both budget and luxurious hotels.
About the Racecourse
There are 15 days of racing at Chester each year and the average attendance stands at around 19,000. The action begins in May and runs through until early October as this is the main flat racing season. Boasting excellent facilities, Chester has consistently been awarded the Gold Standard Award by the Racehorse Owners Association since the award was created in 2008. Given its quite convenient location too, Chester should always be a strong contender when looking to enjoy some flat racing action.
We say that the Roodee is conveniently located due to its proximity to the city centre. It’s so close that you don’t even need to hop on the bus if you are staying in Chester the night before. Located a mile away, the train station is also well within walking distance for most people. If you aren’t up for the 20-minute stroll though, a taxi will get you to the course in a mere six minutes. Chester station has regular direct trains to Liverpool, Manchester, Crewe and Llandudno plus less frequent services to Birmingham.
If you would usually drive yourself to Chester, it is recommended, certainly on busier race days, to take advantage of the park and ride system in operation. There are four large car parks on the outskirts of the city (Boughton Heath, Sealand Road, Upton, Wrexham Road) that run every 12 to 15 minutes with tickets costing just £2. This way you can avoid any congestion and the more expensive racecourse parking. Cars can park in the centre of the course but as spaces are limited, it is recommended to book in advance at a cost of £8 to £11.
The course itself and the park and ride locations are within close proximity of the M53, M56, M6 and A483. This makes Chester Racecourse a great destination for anyone living in, or close to Liverpool, Manchester or North Wales.
Chester Racecourse was named Large Racecourse of the Year in 2015, 2018 and 2019. It is a slightly misleading award though given that compared to other professional courses, Chester is far from large. Most racecourses are well over 100 acres in area but Chester only comes in at 65 acres. The limited available space means the track here is very tight with a full round circuit only a mile in length. What this means for the horses (and jockeys) is that they find themselves on the turn for much of the race.
Having such a sharp track means there is a very distinct advantage to starting on the inside during shorter races at Chester. When placing your bets it is something you have to factor in as the impact of the draw bias here is quite famous and very real.
The dress code in force at Chester depends on which type of ticket you have purchased. For an Open Course ticket, there is no dress code at all, you are only advised to dress appropriately to the weather given the very limited shelter. There is also no policy regarding clothing for patrons located in the Dee Stand. Things become a little stricter once you move into the Tattersalls Enclosure as here a collar is required for the gents as well as smart trousers (chinos and jeans are permitted if they are not ripped). Ladies will need to come in a smart dress. Do not come wearing shorts, trainers, t-shirts, sportswear or fancy dress costumes as you may not be allowed in.
For any ticket more expensive than the Tattersalls Enclosure, so any hospitality area, County Enclosure, Champagne Gardens and so on, smart attire is a must. Specifically, gents must come in a well-tailored suit or blazer with smart trousers, collared shirt and tie. As for the ladies, a smart dress is essential. Denim jeans, trainers, shorts, sportswear and fancy dress costumes are strictly prohibited.
For most meetings, Chester has seven ticketing options and these impact on which stand you have access to. Starting with the Open Course, this provides a very cost-effectively way to get inside the racecourse as tickets are usually available for just £10. You will find very minimal protection from the elements here though as the Open Course is located in the middle of the track. If spaces are available though, you can always upgrade your ticket to a Tattersalls ticket on the day. The Tattersalls Enclosure costs £43 as standard and offers a partially covered tiered standing area with access to both sides of the track. This means you can see the parade and pre-parade ring plus the winners’ enclosure.
Further down the finishing straight, you will find the cheaper Dee Stand (£15). Ticket holders in this section can enter the Open Course but not the paddock area. The actual Dee Grandstand does provide some shelter (plus food and drink options) but primarily it offers a large outdoor standing area beside the outside rail. For access to Chester’s largest and best-positioned grandstand, you will need to purchase a County Long Room ticket (£65). Here you will enjoy an unrivalled view of the final furlong of every contest plus all other public areas of the course. If you are happy just to have access to the ground floor of the main stand, then a County Concourse (£53) ticket will provide you with this.
Finally, Chester offers two premium ticket options, the Winning Post (£110) and the Champagne Gardens (£140). The Winning Post Enclosure is situated on the inside of the track and boasts high-quality food and drink options. Although it lacks a stand, it does offer sheltered areas including a glass roof that runs alongside the inside rail of the racetrack. Finally, the more expensive adults-only Champagne Gardens, unveiled in 2021, is perfect for those who like a drink as premium alcoholic beverages are available to purchase. You will also enjoy plenty of coverage from any rain as this area of the course is covered by glass gazebos which are all fitted with large TV screens showing the racing.
Every year, Chester begins and ends its season with a bang as two of its more notable meetings falls on either side of their calendar. Nestled in the middle, however, is their biggest single-day of racing, City Plate Day. Taking place every July, this is often a sun-filled (and fun-filled) afternoon of racing and one that attracts not only plenty of spectators but many top trainers and owners too. One thing to note at this point is that even for smaller meetings, certain tickets (usually the more expensive options) do sell out at Chester several weeks in advance so early booking is advised.
Each year, Chester returns in emphatic fashion as it treats racegoers to its longest fixture of the season, the three-day May Festival. Taking place between Wednesday and Friday, it is the most famous meeting the racecourse has to offer and is a major player on the flat racing calendar. The star of the show in terms of racing is the Chester Cup that falls on the Festival’s final day. As well as being a historically important race, it also makes for a fantastic betting event especially as short-priced winners are seldom seen.
The Thursday of the Festival is a big day for any budding fashionista as it is Ladies Day. Each time the three best-dressed ladies walk home with some top prizes so it is the perfect excuse to dress to impress. Should you be unable to make this, there is also a Ladies day in August that attracts an extremely large crowd. In fact, when returning to full capacity in 2021, it was the first sell-out event Chester had in the previous two years.
City Plate Day
The City Plate is always a popular event at Chester, in part because it’s a Saturday fixture held in the middle of summer. With conditions often glorious, fans flock to the Roodee in their numbers with many tickets regularly selling out. With extra entertainment organisers and a fantastic selection of food/drink options, it is an afternoon you will not want to end.
Before Chester Racecourse closes its doors for seven months, there is still time for a celebratory send-off. It lacks much in the way of high-quality racing but despite this, it still attracts a good crowd, partly because ticket prices are available at the standard rate. Just be mindful that Open Course tickets may not be available for this fixture as by this time in the year, it’s not such an appealing enclosure.
As mentioned before, Chester is the oldest racecourse still in existence. Its roots date all the way back to 1539 although less formal racing within Chester was happening even before this. We know this because a winner of a race during a Chester fair in 1512 was awarded a hand-painted wooden bowl. This is the earliest evidence we have of a prize being given to the connections of a winning horse.
Back to the racecourse though and things began when newly appointed major, Henry Gee, established an annual horse meeting on the Roodee. It is Gee himself, and his passion for horse racing, that is the reason horses are often called ‘gee gees’ to this day. Jump forward to 1817 and Chester Racecourse welcomed its first grandstand following a very sustained spell of healthy attendances. The rise in numbers was largely a result of the May Meeting that was introduced 50 years prior.
Gotesdday Football Match
Throughout the centuries, Chester has been a venue that has welcomed a real mix of people from far and wide, and this holds true today. Despite its lengthy past, you could not accuse the racecourse of being at all outdated as they have regularly shown innovation in the facilities and services they offer. It is funny to think that the site of this very classy racecourse was, many centuries ago, the location for the famously bloody Gotesdday football match. In the early 16th century, this violent contest took place on the Roodee before being banned in 1533.