They do love their racing in the county of Yorkshire, with a number of respected training establishments, and no fewer than nine racecourses being based in the land of the White Rose. And just about the pick of the tracks in the south of the region is the dual-purpose course of Doncaster.
Home of the oldest Classic contest in the world, in the shape of the historic St Leger Stakes, fans have been flocking to the Town Moor venue for well over 400 years now and look set to continue to do so for some time to come.
Handily located only just over a mile outside Doncaster town centre, Doncaster racecourse affords a range of easily accessible options for those looking to extend their day at the races with an overnight stay.
On the Doorstep
You can’t get much closer than a hotel that is actually based at the course, and for those looking to practically fall out of bed and be at the races, the Hilton Garden Inn Doncaster scores top marks for convenience. Also within a mile of the track are the Campanile Hotel Doncaster, Rigsbys Guesthouse, Warren House, and the appropriately named Grand St Leger Hotel.
A Quick Walk
Whilst the above options are little more than a stone’s throw from the course itself, those who don’t mind stretching their legs just a little more are also well served, with over a dozen further hotels located within two miles of Town Moor.
The majority of these offerings lie in the heart of Doncaster Town Centre, including The Red Lion Wetherspoon and the Entire Luxury Apartments, which both benefit from their proximity to the train station. Whitburn House and the Regent Hotel are amongst the other central options situated little more than a 20-minute walk from the track, whilst to the south of the course, Shortmove – Lakeside offers a more rural setting.
Leeds & Sheffield Both Nearby
Doncaster is no doubt a fine town to visit, offering excellent links to the countryside in addition to over 50 bars, including the likes of Ballers Sports Bar, The Grind and – no doubt racegoer friendly – St Leger Tavern. Pleasant a town as it is though, Doncaster doesn’t quite offer the big-city buzz many like to combine with a trip away to the races.
The county of Yorkshire itself certainly isn’t short of big-city attractions though, with both Sheffield (20 miles) and Leeds (30 miles) but a short train journey or drive away. As the UK’s fourth-biggest city, Leeds is the bigger of the two, but both cities offer a multitude of hotel options, from budget choices to more sumptuous fare.
About the Racecourse
As a dual-purpose venue, Doncaster is amongst the busier courses in the country, with around 36 fixtures staged at the 50,000-capacity site each year. Close to two-thirds of these meetings are flat affairs, including the two fixtures which traditionally open and close the British flat turf season; the Lincoln Handicap in late March and the November Handicap. The jumps then take over during the winter months, with the track generally operating only a light schedule in January and February. Whether attending a flat or jumps fixture, racegoers can expect a thoroughly modern race day experience thanks to a £34 million redevelopment of the track in 2005, including an impressive five-story grandstand.
The Town Moor track is also one of the more conveniently located courses in the country, due to its proximity to the town of Doncaster itself. Doncaster train station, which lies close to the heart of the British rail system and as such is easily accessible for those travelling from both the north and the south, is only a mile and a half from the track. That’s only around 30 minutes in walking time, but for those who prefer a less strenuous trip to the track, a handy shuttle bus service operates between the train station and the course on race days, both before and after racing, with single and return tickets available for only a couple of pounds. A taxi meanwhile will whisk you from the station to the course in around seven minutes.
For those driving to Donny, the track is easily accessible via the M1, the M18, the A1M and the M62. Once in the town, a free car parking service is available at Car Park C (opposite the junction at Wickes on Leger Way). Note there will be a charge at this site during the busy St Leger Festival. Further car parking facilities are plentiful in and around the town centre, with the 24-hour sites at St James’ Car Park to the west and Marshgate further to the north, as well as the late-closing central Civic Quarter Car Park being decent options for racegoers.
The seventh biggest in terms of capacity in the UK, Doncaster is also one of the largest in terms of the layout of the course itself. Boasting a left-handed, pear-shaped configuration, and a circumference of only a shade under two miles, this almost perfectly flat track enjoys extensive straight sections and long gently sweeping bends. Those features, combined with the reliable ground conditions – thanks to the excellent drainage at the course – have earned Doncaster a reputation as being one of the fairest courses in the land.
Whilst the jumps contests take place solely on the round course, the flat events also make use of a spur that runs directly into the four and a half furlong home straight, enabling events at trips of up to a mile to take place on a straight course. And it is on this straight course where the only real draw bias seems to exist. Should the word “soft” enter the going description, bettors should be inclined to favour those drawn close to either rail over those drawn in the centre of the course.
The dress code at Doncaster ranges from casual to super-smart and very much depends upon the type of ticket you have purchased. Racegoers in the Grandstand and Family Enclosures can largely dress as they please, with jeans, sportswear and trainers all being permitted. Do remember to factor the weather into your choice of attire though, particularly during the autumn and winter months, as large sections of the course are exposed to the elements.
Moving up to the County Stand, the Conduit Restaurant, the Boxes and the Owners and Trainers areas, here gentlemen must wear a collared shirt, with trousers/chinos, whilst the women are required to dress in smart attire. Jeans, sportswear and trainers are all forbidden. And topping the table in terms of sartorial elegance are the Premier Enclosure and the Mallard/Lincoln Restaurant. It’s a jacket, shirt and tie for the gents in these areas, with a smart attire stipulation again in place for the ladies. No jeans, sportswear or trainers.
Anyone looking to forego all of the above options and come dressed as a racehorse, or any other fancy-dress disguise, will be fine to do so in the Grandstand area. Fancy dress may also on occasion be permitted in the County Stand, but this must be clarified when purchasing tickets.
For the majority of fixtures Doncaster offers five ticketing options, from budget choices for those looking for a more relaxed day at the races, all the way up to the bells and whistles top-end packages. Starting at the lower end of the price scale we have the family enclosure, priced at just £10 for adults with all accompanied children under the age of 18 gaining free entry. Situated on a lawned area around halfway up the home straight, this alcohol-free zone provides a fine view of the course and is the ideal spot for a picnic. Whilst much of the family enclosure is exposed to the elements, racegoers can take cover in the Family Stand towards the rear of the zone should they wish.
The next section of the track as we move towards the winning post features the always popular Grandstand Enclosure. Priced at a very reasonable £18 per ticket, with accompanied children again going free, this area of the course overlooks the parade ring, winners’ enclosure and the winning post. Selecting this option grants racegoers access to the large Exhibition Hall area of the main grandstand and its wide range of food and drink options.
Next up the pricing ladder is the County Enclosure which comes in at £28 per ticket and provides access to all general admission areas of the course, with the exception of the Premier Suite. In addition to all Grandstand facilities, County Enclosure ticket holders can access the Nijinsky full draught bar and the swanky Champagne Lawn, which is sited beyond the winning post and features a more diverse range of food and drink options.
For those looking for the most spectacular views that the track has to offer, the Premier Suite (£39 per ticket) is the place to be. Located in an entirely glass-fronted section on the third floor of the main stand, this enclosure affords not only an unrivalled vantage point from which to watch the action but also prides itself on ensuring the very best in service and race day experience. Do be sure to book early for the Premier Suite, as tickets are strictly limited in number and tend to sell out quickly for the major race days.
And last, but by no means least, we have the Home Straight Restaurant. The most expensive of the standard race-day options, at £99, a ticket to this enclosure includes a quality three-course meal prepared by the course’s very own chef, a private table with excellent views of the action throughout, in addition to easily accessible tote betting facilities and free tea and coffee. And should you wish to do a little exploring, a Home Straight Restaurant badge, grants access to all other public areas of the course.
In addition to the above options, Doncaster also offers 40 private boxes for parties of 14 or more. Offering specially tailored menus and a more bespoke experience, prices can vary from meeting to meeting. The best advice is to contact the track directly to discuss your requirements.
Whilst being a dual-purpose venue, it is on the level that Doncaster plays a more prominent role on the British racing scene. For it is upon Town Moor that the entire flat campaign both officially begins and ends, with the high profile, and much-coveted Lincoln and November Handicaps. Neither of those contests can lay claim to being Doncaster’s most famous race though. That honour belongs to the historic St Leger Stakes – the longest and oldest of Britain’s five Classic contests, and the spectacular centrepiece to Doncaster’s racing year.
St Leger Festival
So big a deal is the St Leger that it has a full four days of supporting action. Taking place in early September each year – beginning on a Wednesday and concluding on a Saturday – the fabulous festival features no fewer than eight Group class contests in total, headlined of course by the Group 1 St Leger Stakes on the closing day. A 1m6f event for the three year olds and first run back in 1776, the St Leger may be the oldest Classic in the world, but it is not the oldest race at this meeting. More ancient still is the Doncaster Cup on the Friday at this fixture, which made its debut 10 years before the track’s most famous race.
With further high-class contests on offer for the sprinters and juveniles spread throughout the week, in addition to the major betting heat of the Portland Handicap, and a hugely popular “Ladies Day” on the Thursday, this is by some distance Doncaster’s most popular fixture of the season, so be sure to book early.
Everyone loves a curtain-raiser and fans of flat racing are no different. A fact that makes the Lincoln Meeting at the track in late March a pretty big deal. A one-mile handicap contest, named in honour of the now-defunct racecourse at which it initially took place, the Lincoln is traditionally the biggest race held on the opening Saturday of the British flat season. With a pair of Listed class contests and the prestigious Brocklesby Stakes for the juveniles amongst the support, it is no surprise that this prime weekend fixture is one of the most popular of the year.
Vertem Futurity Meeting
From one end of the season to the other, October is lit up by the second of Doncaster’s two Group 1 contests – the first of course being the aforementioned St Leger Stakes. Attracting a field of high class two year olds, this one-mile event has come to be known as the race in which stars are born. And as ever at Doncaster, the action off the track matches that on it, with a range of food, drink and entertainment helping to ensure the stands are packed for this Autumn highlight.
As the home to one of the longest-running races in the world, and Britain’s oldest Classic, it should come as no surprise to learn that racing has taken place in the Doncaster area for quite some time now. Reports of regular meetings in the locale date back to the 16th century, with a map dating from 1595 detailing an earlier course on Town Moor.
It was however nearly all over before it had really begun, with the year 1600 seeing a bid to end racing in Doncaster due to the swarms of “ruffians” the activity allegedly attracted to the area. Thankfully these plans never really got off the ground, to the extent that rather than being closed, a newer and more organised version of the course was built in 1614.
1776: The Track Moved to Town Moor & St Leger Was Born
It wasn’t until 1776 that the track moved to its current location on Town Moor, the same year that the course’s most famous race, the St Leger, was birthed, being named in honour of its creator Colonel Anthony St Leger.
Bentinck & Elis
One of our favourite stories from this track came in 1836, with the tale of the Lord George Bentinck-owned, Elis. A classy performer at the southern tracks, Elis was largely unconsidered for the St Leger due to the fact that in those days runners used to walk from their base to the course – and it was a fair old hike from the Goodwood yard of Elis to Doncaster. Undeterred, Bentinck arranged for Elis to travel in a specially designed van pulled by four other horses. Elis arrived at the track fresh as a daisy and duly hosed up at a well-supported 7/2.
1992: A Crowd of 23,000
Moving into more modern times, and the track made history in 1992 when becoming the first British racecourse to stage racing on a Sunday, attracting a crowd of 23,000, despite there being no betting available on site – a testament to the love of the sport in this corner of South Yorkshire. A love which if anything only continues to grow at a track that, despite being so steeped in history, continues to move with the times.