Of the 59 racecourses to be found on the British mainland, five are located north of the border in Scotland. And, of that quintet, the most picturesque venue is the independently operated track of Hamilton Park.
Boasting beautiful, manicured lawns and leafy surrounds, this small but charming venue also benefits from a prime location – lying 10 miles to the south of Glasgow and only around 40 miles east of the capital city of Edinburgh. Providing competitive fare throughout the summer months, this relaxed and welcoming track is a big draw for Scottish racegoers and those from further afield.
Home to a trio of castles and country parks, a world heritage site at New Lanark, and well within reach of Scotland’s two major cities, there are plenty of reasons for racegoers travelling to South Lanarkshire to linger a little longer in the area. For those looking to extend their visit with an overnight stay, numerous accommodation options are available, both within close proximity to the course and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
At less than 200 metres from the track, the Hampton by Hilton Hamilton Park scores top marks for proximity. Being such a reliable brand and very reasonably priced, this is a very popular option with racegoers – something the hotel is well aware of, with many of the rooms featuring a nod to the track in the décor. Be sure to book early! Other nearby options include the Holiday Inn Express Strathclyde Park, and Days Inn by Wyndham, both of which are also within a mile of the track.
Head Down in Hamilton
It may not have city status, but the nearby town of Hamilton is nevertheless Scotland’s eighth most populous urban settlement and has plenty on offer to keep racegoers entertained, with a stream of highly rated pubs including Butterburn Bar, Roxys Bar, Victoria Bar and Mavrix. Hamilton Mausoleum in Strathclyde Park meanwhile boasts the longest echo of any building in the world – a popular destination for history buffs, but probably not the best place to let out that anguished cry regarding a losing favourite in the last race of the day.
Those looking to keep the party going in Hamilton will find around 60 accommodation options from which to select. Major chains Ramada and Novotel are represented, whilst Tudor Motor Lodge and the Stadium Motel provide comfort on a budget. The Argent Motor Lodge and Heartland Ambassador are amongst the swankier options available, whilst Quarry Street Hamilton benefits from sitting just across the road from the train station.
In the City
Only around 40 miles to the east, the capital city of Edinburgh is a viable option for those seeking the big city experience, but at just 15 miles to the north, Glasgow should not be overlooked. A former European Capital of Culture, Scotland’s second city is home to the Scottish Opera, the Scottish Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland, in addition to a thriving live music and a top-notch sporting scene. And then of course there are the pubs, lots of pubs, with over 400 in total, including the highly-rated Drum and Monkey, Ben Nevis and the Butterfly and the Pig.
Unsurprisingly for a big city, Glasgow’s accommodation options run into the hundreds with Hilton, Jurys Inn, Holiday Inn and ibis being amongst the big chains represented. The Sandyford Hotel and the Clifton Hotel are worth a look towards the lower end of the pricing spectrum, whilst for those seeking to sample the high life, the spectacular Kimpton – Blythswood Square Hotel is tough to beat.
About the Racecourse
A flat-only track, Hamilton lays on around 19 fixtures per season, all of which fall between May and late September/early October. Big on themed race days and live music, the track stages five weekend cards each year, whilst the eight summer evening fixtures are particularly popular with the locals.
Lying so close to one of Scotland’s major cities, Hamilton is easy to reach by road from all directions, being approached by the M9, M80 and A80 from the North, the M74 from the South, the M8 from the East and the A8, M7 and M74 from the west. Those travelling from England are advised to follow the M74 before heading towards the B7071 from junction 6 which then leads directly to the track. For satnav users, the track’s postcode is ML3 0DW.
Free car parking is available in the track’s main car park on all race days, with overflow sites based at the nearby Hamilton College and on Caird Street also available for the busiest events. The Dukes Car Park meanwhile is reserved for members and racing staff.
For those travelling by train, the closest station to the track is that of Hamilton West within Hamilton town centre. Regularly served by Glasgow Central, which in turn boasts strong links with major cities down the length of the UK, Hamilton West is only around a 15-minute walk from the track. Alternatively, a taxi rank is located just outside the station. For those arriving via Glasgow, an alternative to the train is the 255 bus service, which runs from Glasgow City Centre, through Hamilton Town and on to the racecourse.
Closely resembling a badminton racquet in shape, Hamilton Park is one of the most original tracks in the UK in terms of its layout. The bulk of the course consists of a straight section measuring close to six furlongs, with a right-handed loop leaving the track at around the three-furlong mark, turning back on itself to then re-join the straight course close to the five-furlong start. Events over a mile and 1m1f begin within this loop, whilst those over further initially run the “wrong way” down the straight, taking in the loop before re-joining the straight to head back the way they came.
The turning sections of the track are a little on the sharp side but don’t tend to cause too many problems. What many runners do have difficulty with though are the significant undulations, both around the bend and particularly within the home straight. Initially descending into a dip, the straight then begins to climb at the three-furlong pole, gently at first, but then quite severely before levelling out close to the winning line.
Historically, runners have tended to head towards the far rail on soft or slower going, handing an edge to those drawn high in sprint events. Significant improvements to the drainage at the track have however greatly reduced the frequency of such conditions. Conversely, over all distances which take in the bend, a low draw close to the rail is a slight advantage.
In terms of running style, prominent racers are generally favoured over all distances, although the long straight does provide the opportunity for a well-judged hold-up ride. Overall, look for well-balanced runners with proven stamina at the trip, as it can take a bit of getting home up that tough final section of the home straight. A very tricky venue at which to judge the pace, any jockeys with a solid record at the track are well worth a second look.
Hamilton Park prides itself on providing a relaxed social atmosphere for racegoers and has a dress code to match. Other than football shirts being advised against, there is in fact no strict dress code in place at the venue, with smart casual being suggested, but not rigidly enforced.
As with many tracks though, how people tend to dress does vary depending upon the meeting. Family Fun Day for example operates firmly towards the relaxed end of the spectrum, whereas people do tend to opt for smarter, more glamorous attire at the Ladies Day and Saints and Sinners fixtures. Unlike at many tracks, the ladies shouldn’t be afraid to bring out the heels, as the numerous paved walkways make it easy to get around without becoming stuck in the mud.
Hamilton operates just the one type of standard admission ticket, priced at £20 for adults and £15 for students and OAP’s at a standard meeting, rising to £28 and £17.50 for the bigger fixtures of the year, and £40 and £30 for Ladies Night in July. Under 18s go free with a paying adult at all meetings. Standard tickets afford access to the grandstand and parade ring, excellent views of the final furlong and winning post, in addition to a range of food and drink options including Duke’s Bar, Braveheart Bar, the Overton Farm Grill and Equi’s Ice Cream Bar.
In addition to the standard ticketing option, a range of hospitality packages are also available. The swish Duke’s Restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, grants outstanding views of the track, to compliment the quality dining, private bar, and betting facilities; whilst the classy private boxes can accommodate up to 40 guests, and provide a dedicated host, private bar and balcony views.
With around two thirds of the fixtures falling either on an evening or a weekend, the season at Hamilton is well structured to draw in the crowds. And, it does so consistently, with the majority of meetings being very well attended indeed. As with all tracks though, there are certain race-days where packed stands and an excellent atmosphere are all but guaranteed, with the following three standing out from the crowd.
Glasgow Stakes Day
If the quality of the racing on offer tops your list of priorities, then this mid-July meeting may well be the time to pay a visit to the Lanarkshire venue. Headlined by the track’s most prestigious and valuable contest of the season in the shape of the Glasgow Stakes, a quality undercard includes the Scottish Stewards Cup Handicap – one of the biggest of its type to be staged north of the border. Taking place on a Friday evening, and with live music after racing, there’s a real party atmosphere in the stands to complement the cracking action on the track at one of Hamilton’s flagship fixtures.
Lanark Silver Bell
Late August each year sees the latest edition of the tracks most historic event, with the annual running of the Lanark Silver Bell. Gifted to the Royal Burgh of Lanark by William the Lion in 1160, the Silver Bell is one of the oldest sporting trophies to be found anywhere on the planet. Held at the now-defunct Lanark racecourse until 1977, the closure of that track looked to have tolled the end for “The Bell”, until Hamilton stepped in to revive the contest in 2008.
A hugely popular addition to the programme, the original Lanark Bell is too fragile to be given out these days but is on display at the track on the day of the race, adding a historical air to proceedings. Acting as the final Friday night fixture of the season, and with additional entertainment including a live DJ, this late summer fixture never fails to draw in the crowds.
Possibly the biggest day at the track though – both in terms of its positioning on the Lanarkshire social calendar and attendance – is Hamilton’s signature Ladies Night of late July. Whilst the action on the track may fall into the mid-range category, this is the meeting at which things really move up a level in the fashion stakes, as the ladies and gents do battle for the Best Dressed Lady and Man of Style prizes – which are often well worth winning.
Throw in live music after racing, with big names such as Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Pixie Lott and Jason Donovan amongst those to have performed in the past, and it’s no surprise that tickets tend to sell out very quickly.
This corner of Scotland has staged racing of some description for not far off 250 years now, with the first events taking place at Chatelherault just outside the town back in 1782. Quickly gaining in popularity, the track was putting on three meetings per season within three years of opening.
Known solely as a flat racing venue these days, the initial racing in the area was in fact of the jumping variety, with Chatelherault staging events over obstacles until forced into closure in 1907. Then followed a barren spell of 19 years, with the track only reopening at its current Bothwell Road site in 1926.
First Racecourse to Stage Both Morning & Evening Fixtures
A flat only course for the duration of its second incarnation, Hamilton Park may not have featured in the upper echelons of British tracks, but that didn’t prevent it from recording a couple of notable firsts – becoming the first UK racecourse to stage both an evening meeting in 1947 and a morning fixture in 1971.
William Wilson McHarg
A slight downturn in fortunes saw the track faced with an uncertain future in 1973, only to be saved by a certain William Wilson McHarg who stepped in to become the director and purchased the majority of the shares in the course. McHarg was instrumental in the establishment of the Hamilton Park Trust, which owns and operates the track to this day, operating as a not for profit and reinvesting all proceeds into the facilities.
Improvements to the Track
A somewhat unique financial model in the British racing sphere, it seems to be working, with over £2m in improvements having been made since the turn of the century. Boasting a rich history, picturesque setting and thoroughly modern facilities, this small gem of a track continues to record notable firsts, becoming the first racecourse to sell tickets to a standalone music concert in 2010, and the first Scottish track to provide free wifi to racegoers in 2015.