It may sound hard to believe given horse racing’s popularity but since 1928, there have only been two new racecourses built in Britain. The most recent of these is Ffos Las, which opened its doors for the first time in 2009. In doing so, it became just one of three active racecourses in Wales. The relatively modern racing venue hosts flat and National Hunt racing and is one of many courses owned by the Arena Racing Company.
Ffos Las Racecourse sits between the small villages of Carway and Trimsaran, nestled in the countryside in the southwest corner of Wales. There is plenty to love about its natural amphitheatre setting but the lack of urbanisation surrounding it does mean there is almost no accommodation within walking distance of the racecourse. We say ‘almost’ because Ffos Las Racecourse does actually have an on-site hotel featuring 17 rooms, but this is not open to the public on race days.
If you wish to stay within a few miles of Ffos Las Racecourse, there is really only one possibility, the Baltic Inn and Restaurant. The family-run three-star inn is situated about three miles north of the racecourse and provides both an affordable and comfortable stay. There are seven rooms available so if booking in advance, you may well find there is still availability on the day of a race meeting.
Llanelli a Convenient Destination
Located just 15 minutes away by car, the coastal town of Llanelli has plenty of places for you to stay. Home to both a Travelodge and two Premier Inns (Central West and Central East), this is where many visitors end up staying but these two chains are not the only options. Stradey Park Hotel and Spa, for example, is a very highly rated option on the outskirts of town. Nearby you will also find the affordable Thomas Arms Hotel and the Best Western Diplomat Hotel.
About the Racecourse
Ffos Las racecourse is unique in the sense that it was built on the site of an open coal mine after all mining operations were shut down. There used to be a farm named Ffos Las where the course stands too and this name, which translates to ‘blue ditch’, is the one that ended up sticking. Although open coal mines are not a traditional choice to build racecourse on, Ffos Las feels like a fully authentic racing track and one boasting excellent views of the surrounding rolling countryside.
If you ever fancy visiting Britain’s youngest racecourse, there are a few ways of doing so. To arrive via public transport, you will first need to get yourself to Llanelli Railway station, which enjoys direct connections to/from the likes of Swansea, Cardiff, Manchester Piccadilly and Newport. From here, you can take advantage of the free shuttle bus that runs on a first come first serve basis. Alternatively, there is the public 197 bus service but note that this does not operate on Sundays.
For those who intend on arriving via car, the postcode you will want to aim for is SA17 4DE. There are several miles of country roads to tackle before getting to the course but the M4 and A48 are both only around 20 minutes away. When arriving, car parking at the racecourse is free of charge and there is never any shortage of space. You do not need to pre-book either, simply rock up on the day and take a spot.
With so much flat open space to work with, those that helped design the Ffos Las course had a blank canvas at their disposal. The configuration they chose was an oval course with the two chutes at either side creating a 5f/6f straight track and ensuring 1m4f races do not start on a turn. It is practically a paradise for any long-striding galloping horses as not only are there two long straights and no sharp bends, but the whole place is extremely flat. Add to this an absence of any ridges or sharp cambers and almost all jockeys would agree this is an extremely fair place to ride.
In addition to flat racing, Ffos Las also hosts jumps racing, something that takes place on the inside of the flat course. It shares all the same characteristics while the jumps themselves are seen as reasonably challenging but nothing too strenuous.
Smart casual dress is the usual message when attending Ffos Las although in reality you will probably be fine with most casual outfits too. The only items of clothing strictly prohibited are ripped/torn jeans, trainers and rugby/football shirts. Avoid these and you should be absolutely fine with a general admission ticket. Within hospitality areas, smart casual should be seen as the minimum.
Should you want to be rewarded for your outfit selection, know that on Ladies Day there are prizes on offer thanks to Ffos Las ‘Style Awards’. In previous years, the lucky winner has received a £500 cash prize for being the one to impress the judges the most.
Ffos Las does not complicate matters for those wishing to attend. They offer just one ‘standard’ ticket by the name of general admission with prices starting at £10 for concessions and £15 for adults when bought in advance. If you prefer to purchase at the gate on the day, ticket prices start from £15 and £20, respectively. A general admission ticket will give you access to the sole, main grandstand at Ffos Las, situated almost parallel to the winning post.
With overhead cover, the grandstand can provide shelter for around 1,000 spectators and it is the only place to enjoy an elevated view of proceedings. The grandstand is surrounded by a very spacious concreted concourse where you will find a range of bookmakers happy to take your bets. Behind the stand you will find the pre-parade and parade ring should you wish to take a close look at the horses before the race begins.
If you do wish to upgrade your experience, there are two options. A small upgrade is to pay the few quid extra for a ‘complete raceday package’. On top of general admission, with this you will also get a hot pie, a drink, a racecard and a £2 betting voucher. The more expensive upgrade is bookies a table in the Bridles Restaurant with a three-course meal here likely to set you back between £60 and £80. As this restaurant is on the upper floor of the grandstand, it is here where you will enjoy the best views Ffos Las can offer.
There are over 20 race meetings at Ffos Las spread over the year so there is never a long wait until the next taste of live racing action. There are three months of flat racing (July to September) and outside of this, you can enjoy National Hunt contests. The highlight of the latter is undoubtedly Welsh Champion Hurdle in October. It was a race previous run at Chepstow until dwindling fields and standards saw it dropped from there in 2003.
Ffos Las has successfully revived this formerly failed race though to the extent it headlines the entire meeting and attracts a bumper crowd to the course. Although there are no major flat races to accompany this, Ladies Day in August is always the star of the obstacle-less season. Filled with fashion and glamour, there is always an increased interest for this particular race day, especially from the ladies.
It is also worth mentioning that Ffos Las sometimes has the odd race meeting that precedes a live music performance. Ticket prices are always more expensive for these meetings and depending on the act, things can get quite busy at the course. This is not much of an issue though as Ffos Las is capable of holding up to 15,000 spectators.
For a course that was only opened in 2009, Ffos Las does not have too much in the way of history to talk about. There have been some highlights though such as hosting a sell-out 10,000 crowd during its inaugural meeting on 18th June of that year. A little over a week later and the South Wales course hosted an Arabian horse meeting, 30 years after the UK hosted its very first, in Peterborough.
The official opening ceremony for Ffos Las did not follow until August with racing commentator, Sir Peter O’Sullevan, having the honour of conducting it. In excess of 12,000 people showed up for this celebratory meeting, a number no doubt aided by the fact Welsh singer Cerys Matthews performed afterwards.
The Threat of Closure
Despite all the initial successes, Ffos Las almost ended up being an extremely short-lived project as there was a self-imposed threat of closure just two years after it opened. This threat came from course chairman, Dai Walters, who was angered by the proposal from the British Horseracing Authority to cut the number of fixtures at Ffos Las from 29 to 16.
In the end, the course only ended up losing three meetings and went from 29 in 2011 to 26 in 2012. Fully content with this, Walters did not have to act on his stark warning and quickly confirmed to the press that racing would continue as normal the following year.
2018: Purchased by the Arena Racing Company
Since then, Ffos Las has faced no danger of closure and its long-term future even received a boost when purchased by the Arena Racing Company in 2018. No fee was disclosed for the deal but it did come just after Ffos Las enjoyed a record-breaking year of attendances (2017). Previous owner, Walters, did not step away from the course completely though as part of the agreement saw him become the honorary chairman.
The Issue of Waterlogging
The only difficulty Ffos Las has really faced in its short history has been waterlogging. It has become a somewhat prominent issue with cancellations not that uncommon in southwest Wales. During the winter of 2020/21, the course took on so much rain that three successive fixtures had to be called off.