Situated only around a mile outside the cathedral city of the same name, and a stone’s throw from both the beautiful Herefordshire countryside and the Welsh borders, lies Hereford Racecourse. With over 240 years of history behind it, this quintessential countryside track has been a part of the British racing scene for quite some time now, but has endured something of a rocky ride in recent years.
Thankfully, all seems to be well once again, with the track now back to doing what it does best in offering competitive racing in this most pleasant corner of the West Country. If you fancy a visit and want to know more about the hotel options and the course itself, read on.
Whilst a hankering for competitive racing action is a fine enough reason to head to Hereford, there are numerous other attractions on offer in this part of the UK. The county town of Hereford itself is home to a number of historical points of interest – including a museum dedicated solely to that West Country staple of cider – whilst the Malvern Hills, Wye Valley and Brecon Beacons are all within hailing distance for those seeking a more scenic supplement to their excursion. Plenty of reasons to tack an extra day onto that racing trip then, and thankfully, the area offers accommodation options aplenty.
Closest to the Course
Unlike some other courses in the UK, Hereford does not boast a hotel at the track itself. There are, however, a whole host of choices but a short distance away. Just off the A49 – and only around a 5-minute walk from the track – the Premier Inn Hereford Holmer Hotel is the closest of these and provides solid value comfort.
Less than two-miles to the south of the course, Hereford town centre is well within walking distance, and it is here where the largest concentration of accommodation options is to be found. The highly rated Holly House Bed & Breakfast lies only a few hundred yards from the train station, whilst both Kidswell House and Kestral House are within a short walk of the city centre and under 1.5 miles from the course.
With the rolling Welsh mountains providing a stirring backdrop to the action on the track, Hereford racecourse already provides a taste of the stunning scenery in the area. However, for those seeking a more immersive countryside experience, there are a number of attractive accommodation options in and around the nearby areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The Wye Valley sits only around 11 miles to the south of the track and features a cluster of hotel and bed and breakfast options, including the appropriately named Paddocks Hotel. With the Malvern Hills around 20 miles to the east, and the Brecon Beacons a similar distance to the west – both of which are very well served by hotel and bed and breakfast options – this area of the West Country is particularly well suited to racing fans who are also lovers of the great British countryside.
Bunk in Birmingham
Of course, relaxing and picturesque scenery isn’t for everyone. There are those racegoers who seek something just a little more vibrant to complement the action on the track. And whilst Hereford itself does boast an attractive range of pubs and bars, those in search of the big city experience may wish to head north to Birmingham.
Around 60 miles from the course, England’s second city can be reached in around an hour and a half by train, with Birmingham New Street enjoying strong links with Hereford Station. Home of the bustling Broad Street with its wide range of pubs, clubs and bars, Birmingham also boasts the full range of accommodation options you would expect of a major city. Big chains such as the Holiday Inn, Jury’s Inn, Hilton and Ibis are all represented, but really there’s something to suit all tastes and budgets here – from the very reasonably priced Selina and Great Barr Hotel, all the way up to the Luxurious five-star rated Grand Hotel Birmingham.
About the Racecourse
A National Hunt-only venue, Hereford stages around 13 fixtures over the course of its season which runs between October and April – falling into line with the core British jumps campaign. A mid to lower-level course in terms of the class of race on offer, there are no real contests of national significance held at the track. However, that’s not to say there aren’t quality performers on show, with the track’s proximity to the major training centres of Lambourn and the West Country making it a frequent port of call for some of the more promising novices in the game.
Enjoying decent transport links via both road and rail, the track is relatively easy to reach from most parts of the country despite its rural setting. For those travelling by car, the track lies on the A4103 just off the A49. Those arriving from the north and south are advised to approach via the A49 whilst the A438 runs through Hereford travelling from east to west. And of course, satnav makes the whole process that bit easier, with the postcode to use being, HR4 9QU. Ample free parking is available at the track on all race days, with stewards in attendance to guide. Motorists wishing to leave the car in Hereford town centre will find a number of 24-hour facilities on offer, including those on Friars Street and Wye Street.
For racegoers arriving by rail, Hereford Station lies on the Welsh Marshes Line and enjoys strong links with a number of major cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff. Once at the train station, the course can be reached on foot in around 30 minutes or in about five or ten minutes in a taxi. Public transport is also available via the 72b bus service which departs from the station and drops eager punters close to the track.
Close to 1m4f in circumference and resembling a square in terms of its configuration, Hereford’s right-handed course features tight turns and relatively extensive straight sections. Generally flat throughout, the one exception comes on the turn for home which – in addition to being the tightest of the four bends – descends fairly sharply, testing the balance of the field.
Runners tackling the chase course are faced with nine fences per circuit which, whilst not the most difficult in the country, are still pretty stiff for a smaller track and provide a true jumping test. Of these obstacles it is the first following the winning post which tends to cause the most difficulty, largely due to the fact that is taken whilst the field are on the turn out of the home straight.
Generally considered a fair and straightforward track, there is nevertheless a slight bias towards well balanced and prominent racers at Hereford. Runners towards the head of affairs, able to gain momentum on that downhill turn for home, often prove very tough to reel in. The run-in following the final obstacle is only short, but the fact the track widens considerably at this point can lead to more errant sorts wandering about and becoming vulnerable in the closing stages.
As a relaxed countryside track, there is no official dress code in place at Hereford – a statement which applies to both the general admission and hospitality areas, although many gents do still opt for a shirt and tie in the latter. The track does suggest smart casual attire throughout, but only ripped jeans and sportswear are actively discouraged. Fancy dress is also permitted for those so inclined, as at all courses, so long as it is not deemed to be offensive in nature. Whatever you choose to wear though, remember to factor in the weather, as the majority of meetings do take place during the winter months and much of the track is uncovered.
The most popular ticketing option at Hereford is that of a general admission ticket. Priced at around £19 for most standard fixtures and rising to £24 for the bigger events such as Ladies Day, this ticket grants racegoers access to the parade ring, sheltered viewing stand and a range of bars and eateries including the Hummingbird Bar and Piglets Pantry. Group discounts are available for parties of 10 and over, whilst over 60s and students will receive a £5 concession for tickets purchased on the day. All under 18s go free with a paying adult.
In addition to the general admission option, a range of dining and hospitality packages are also available. The £29 punters package provides entry, race card and a pie and drink voucher, whilst the Rusty Bridge restaurant offers fine fining with prices starting at around £75 per head. The first-floor private boxes provide panoramic views of both the track and the city, and are an option for those seeking a more luxurious experience or looking to entertain corporate guests.
Whilst many horses do take in a spin around Hereford on route to competing in top level company, the track itself doesn’t play host to any truly high class contests, with the majority of fixtures being dominated by mid-level handicapping fare. As with all tracks though, there are still certain cards which stand out from the crowd, with the following three in particular regularly proving popular with punters.
Christmas Jumper Raceday
Offering a break from the Christmas shopping, this festive fixture in early December focuses firmly on providing a fun day out for all the family. With a free mince pie dished out to the first 1,000 customers through the gates, a local choir performing Christmas songs and carols, and prizes on offer for the best Christmas jumper, this is always one of the track’s most well attended fixtures. And it’s all in a good cause too, with the day being held in aid of a nominated charity each year.
Late March sees Hereford’s most glamourous race day, as the fairer sex descend on the course in all their finery. And where the ladies go, the men will follow, making this comfortably one of the venue’s busiest meetings of the year. With live music after the racing, excellent prizes on offer in the Style Awards, and of course exciting action on the track, this springtime fixture has become a real staple of the local social calendar.
Dino Discovery Family Fun Day
New in 2022, this April fixture puts a slightly different spin on your average family fun day, with a parade of animatronic dinosaurs roaming the track prior to racing. Jurassic Park in Herefordshire might be overstating things a touch but the children certainly seem sure to love it! With a range of further kid’s entertainment running throughout the day, and seven cracking racing contests for the adults, there’s something for everyone at what seems set to be a hugely popular event.
Having first opened for business way back in August of 1771, Hereford Racecourse boasts one of the richest racing heritages in the land. Initially a flat-only venue, it wasn’t until 1840 that the National Hunt action joined the party. However, by 1884 the jumping game had dislodged the flat entirely, with the final event on the level taking place in 1883.
Becoming firmly established as a National Hunt only venue in the early part of the 20th century, the track was forced to close between 1939 and 1946 due to the Second World War, but benefitted from a surge in popularity upon reopening. Significant investment then followed throughout the 1960s, a decade which saw a modernisation of the facilities and the installation of the track’s first photo-finish camera. The improvements at the course left Hereford well placed to take advantage of the additional fixtures gained during the 1970s, thanks in part to the closure of the nearby course at Stockton.
Notable Trainers & Jockeys
And all continued to run relatively smoothly in the following decades, with the 1990s seeing a couple of notable firsts at the track. Multiple champion trainer, Paul Nicholl, saddled his first ever winner here in 1991, whilst champion jockey, Richard Johnson, entered the winner’s enclosure for the very first time in 1994 – his partner in crime that day, Rusty Bridge, being the horse after whom the track’s restaurant is named.
A Temporary Pause
Moving into the current century and things began encouragingly enough with Northern Racing (now part of the ARC group) stepping in to purchase the track for £3 million soon after the millennium. Trouble, however, arrived in 2012 as, having failed to obtain a new lease from Herefordshire Council, ARC ceased all operations at the track, seemingly bringing an end to the 240 plus years of racing history.
Track Re-Opens in 2016
Both Arabian racing and Point to Point fixtures continued in the years following 2012, and, thankfully, by 2016, a resolution to the previous lease dispute had been found, seeing the track reopen for business in October of that year. A welcome re-addition to the British National Hunt scene following this brief hiatus, Hereford remains a popular countryside destination for owners, trainers and punters alike. Check it out!