Sitting on the outskirts of the village of Brampton, and only a couple of miles west of the market town from which it takes its name, lies Huntingdon racecourse. Providing racing entertainment to the East Anglian natives since back in 1886, this track now boasts the distinction of being Cambridgeshire’s only racecourse.
Also a designated conservation zone – going under the name of Brampton Racecourse – thanks to the rare and diverse range of plant life in the area, this corner of the country is a real haven for both nature lovers and racing fans, and is one of the UK’s highest-rated smaller tracks around.
Whilst local racing fans will most likely head to Huntingdon and back home again on the same day, those travelling from further afield may wish to linger in the area a little longer. And there are plenty of reasons to stick around, with Huntingdon itself boasting its own small-town charm, and both the stunning scenery of the Chiltern Hills and the capital city of London within relatively easy reach. Considering tacking an extra day onto your racing trip with an overnight stay? Thankfully, there is no shortage of accommodation options in and around the area.
Closest to the Course
If proximity to the course is your number one priority, then the Holiday Inn Huntingdon Racecourse won’t be beaten. Set within the picturesque grounds of the track, those arriving the night before will merely need to roll out of bed, into their racing apparel and take the shortest of walks to the racecourse entrance. Complete with a bar, a restaurant and a gym, in addition to free parking for all guests, it is an understandably popular choice.
Further options within easy walking distance are the luxurious Oak-Island Hall and the Brampton Luxury Annexe Apartment (both in Brampton village), with the Huntingdon Marriott Hotel and the Premier Inn Huntingdon also under a mile from the course.
Head Down Town
Another option is to stay within the town of Huntingdon itself. Only around two miles from the track, accommodation options within the quaint market town are still within walking distance for those who like to stretch their legs, or only a short drive or taxi journey away for those who don’t. Home to a range of independent cafés, restaurants and pubs, including the highly regarded King of the Belgians and Falcon Tavern, there’s plenty here to keep you occupied on your racing jaunt.
In addition to the range of bars and eateries, accommodation options within Huntingdon town centre are also plentiful. The Sandford House Hotel and George Hotel benefit from lying only a few hundred yards from the train station, but there should be something to suit all tastes and price ranges here, from budget options including the Ramada, all the way up to swanky offerings such as the Eagle Mill Luxury Rooms.
Whilst Huntingdon undoubtedly has its charm, it may be on the small side for those seeking more of a city break experience to partner up with their racing trip. Only 60 miles to the south, a stay in London is certainly a viable option, but for something a little closer, how about that famous university city of Cambridge.
A real cultural hotspot, the city on the River Cam is hugely popular with tourists and boasts a thriving pub scene to complement its many historical attractions. Only around an hour away from Huntingdon by bus, the city is also home to a swathe of hotels. Major chains, such as Holiday Inn, Novotel and ibis are all represented, in addition to more unique options such as Harry’s Bed and Breakfast and Leverton House.
About the Racecourse
Operating between early October and early June, Huntingdon’s National Hunt-only venue lays on 19 fixtures per season, the majority of which are midweek affairs. Generally, only average in terms of the quality of the performers on show, the track does raise the bar to Listed level for the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle in February, and higher still for the track’s signature event of the Peterborough Chase of early December.
Lying just half a mile from Junction 22 on the A14, Huntingdon is relatively straightforward to reach by car. A particularly well-connected road, the A14 links to the major routes of the A1, M1, M6 and M11, making it easily accessible from all directions. For satnav users, the postcode of the track is PE28 4NL. Do note however that this area is notoriously prone to roadwork delays, so be sure to set ample time aside for the journey. Once at the track, motorists will find ample free parking available, or for those leaving the car in Huntingdon town centre, 24-hour facilities are available on Hartford Road and at the train station.
For those travelling by rail, the nearest station is that within Huntingdon town centre. Lying on the busy London King’s Cross to Edinburgh line, the station also enjoys regular services from Peterborough. Once at the station, the track is only 10 minutes away in a taxi, whilst Huntingdon Racecourse generally offers a free shuttle service on race days, but do double-check in advance if planning to use this option.
Close to 1m4f in circumference, Huntingdon’s right-handed, oval track is almost completely flat throughout and features gentle bends – although the turn out into the backstretch is notably tighter than that which leads back around to the home straight. Considered an easy track in all bar the heaviest conditions – something of a rarity thanks to the rapid draining gravel subsoil – Huntingdon is a track that places the emphasis firmly upon speed over stamina.
A particularly popular venue for up-and-coming novice chasers, the course features nine relatively easy fences per circuit. With the tricky water jump having been replaced by a standard obstacle in 2008, the most challenging fence now comes in the shape of the open ditch before the bend into the back straight. If there is to be a mistake it is most likely to come, either here, or at the penultimate obstacle which looms up very quickly following a bend. After the last on both the chase and the hurdle track, runners are faced with a run-in of around 200 yards to the line.
When looking at the types of horses who tend to go well around here, handy front running sorts seem to be at a big advantage over those who like to come with a late run. Nippier, more agile runners also fare better than the larger, longer striding types who can often struggle to find a rhythm. As with many tracks, any runner with solid previous form at the venue is worth a second look.
A generally relaxed venue, there is no official dress code in the main enclosure, with the usual stipulation of remembering to dress for the weather, particularly if attending one of the midwinter fixtures. In relation to the weather consideration, the track also recommends against arriving either in ripped clothing, or completely topless!
The sartorial stipulations are a little stricter in the hospitality and restaurant areas, where all men must wear a collared shirt, with jackets and ties encouraged. Ladies should dress as if for a smart occasion. Ripped jeans, t-shirts, uncollared shirts, trainers and beachwear are all forbidden. Fancy dress is allowable in the main enclosure, but not the hospitality and restaurant areas, so long as it is not either too revealing, offensive in nature, or both.
The most popular ticketing option at Huntingdon is a general admission ticket. Priced at £12 to £20 when booked in advance, rising to £17 to £25 on the day, this ticket provides excellent views of both the final fence and finish line, in addition to granting access to the parade ring, winners enclosure and a range of food and drink options including Sharps Bar and the Hurdles Bistro. For the bigger Bank Holiday and Boxing Day meetings, the track also operates the slightly cheaper Picnic enclosure, enabling racegoers to park close to the side of the track and enjoy their own food and drink.
The track also offers a range of restaurant and hospitality options. Packages for the excellent Peterborough restaurant range from £75 to £90, whilst private box deals start at £110 for most fixtures. Kids go free with a paying adult in general admission areas, whilst discounts are available for senior citizens. 18 to 24 year olds meanwhile can receive 50% off the ticket price when registering for an 18 to 24 RacePass .
Whilst novice and handicapping fare make up the bulk of the season at the track, particularly at the more run of the mill midweek fixtures, like all courses Huntingdon does boast its seasonal highlights. And, whether due to the quality of the racing action, the atmosphere at the track, or some combination of the two, it is the following three fixtures that stand out from the crowd.
Peterborough Chase Day
The track’s only graded class contest has moved around the racing calendar a little over the years but has now taken up residence on the first Sunday in December, providing a real pre-Christmas treat for visitors to the track. Perhaps the only day of the year when the national racing spotlight shines on this east Anglian course, this event has been won by the likes of three-time Gold Cup king, Best Mate, Wayward Lad, Remittance Man, and four-time champ Edredon Bleu. If planning a trip to Huntingdon, and quality racing is your number one priority, then this is the day to come.
Peterborough Chase Day may be the classiest fixture of the Huntingdon season, but it is not the busiest. That honour belongs to the hugely popular Boxing Day fixture which regularly draws in crowds of over 8,000. Offering a competitive seven-race card, a whole host of additional entertainment, and big screens showing all of the action from the King George fixture at Kempton, it’s no surprise that so many racegoers opt to keep the Christmas party going with an afternoon of National Hunt action.
Easter Family Fun Day
The Easier Holiday period each year sees the tracks most family-focussed race day. Featuring an Easter egg hunt with separate prizes for kids and adults, further free entertainment for the kids – and of course the racing itself, and all the usual bars for the grown-ups – there’s something for everyone at this invariably very well attended fixture.
Whilst racing is alleged to have taken place at the nearby Port Holme from as early as 1775, it wasn’t until over 100 years later in 1886 that the first events were reported from the current location just outside Brampton – the first recorded contest at the track being a three-mile chase taking place over the Easter weekend of that year.
A devoutly National Hunt venue throughout its lifetime, fixtures were a little sporadic in those early years but began to become far more organised with the formation of the Huntingdon Steeple Chase Group following the conclusion of the First World War.
1925: Cambridge Closure Boosts Attendance
The track then received a further boost in 1925 when the closure of the nearby Cambridge Racecourse saw an increase in attendance. That closure in fact left Huntingdon as the only officially recognised racecourse in the county – a status it maintains to this day, although Cottenham also survives as a Point-to-Point venue.
Slowly increasing in popularity, the appointment of John Goodliff as chairman in 1953 served as a catalyst to this growth. Under Goodliff’s stewardship, the course benefitted from a range of innovations and improvements, both to the track itself and the facilities. Christened “The Goodliff”, the open ditch in front of the grandstand is a permanent reminder of the former chairman’s considerable contribution.
Major Races Attract Big Name Trainers
As the status of the track improved, so too did the quality of the racing action, with the Peterborough chase arriving in 1969, and the Listed class Sidney Barnes Memorial Novices’ Hurdle following seven years later in 1976. Many big-name trainers have a soft spot for Huntingdon’s layout, but possibly none more so than Henrietta Knight. Forever associated with the brilliant Best Mate, Knight landed the Peterborough Chase a remarkable eight times between 1998 and 2007 – including with Best Mate himself in 2002, and on a record-setting four occasions with Edredon Bleu.
Facilities Boost & Best Small Racecourse Award
Now owned by the Jockey Club, the track continues to go from strength to strength with a further boost to facilities coming with the unveiling of the £2.7m Cromwell stand in 2009. Named the Best Small Racecourse in the South Midlands and East Anglia in both 2012 and 2014, this small gem of a course is well worth a visit.