Wanting to see live thoroughbred horses in action is not the only reason people might travel to Leicester Racecourse. Thanks to its large facilities and easy to reach location, the course is used for various conferences, weddings, parties and exhibitions throughout the year. This is not what we are here to talk about though; instead, our main interest is to provide you with everything there is to know about race meetings at the East Midlands course and where to stay when you visit them.
There is more than enough to see and do in Leicester to keep you busy for at least a couple of days. If you are eyeing up a trip to the racecourse, you may decide you want to stick around a bit longer to see what else the city has to offer. Should you do so, rest assured that you will have very little trouble finding a room for a night (or two).
Reachable by Foot
With Leicester Racecourse located by the edge of the city, part of the neighbouring town of Oadby, hotels close to the racecourse are not in abundant supply. There are a couple of options though that you can get to without a car or public transport, albeit not too quickly. North of the racecourse, up the A6 there is the Regency Hotel and the Flexistay Leicester Gable Aparthotel, both reachable on foot in around 20 minutes. Heading west, down Palmerston Way, this will take you close to the Holiday Inn Wigston which is only a little further away at around 25 minutes. Finally, with a similar length walk, you can get to the four-star College Court, located in Knighton.
Leicester Centre for a Bigger Selection
To access the biggest range of options, we advise looking for a place to sleep in the heart of Leicester. It is here that features the greatest concentration of hotels, including many recognisable names like Travelodge (x2), Premier Inn, Ibis, Holiday Inn and Novotel. With hassle-free places like these, you can be almost certain of a pleasant stay and one that provides you with a convenient base for exploring Leicester, or for catching public transport. We should also note that the Holiday Inn offers a special race day price of £60 per night (per room). To access this offer, just quote racecourse events when booking with the hotel directly.
About the Racecourse
Leicester Racecourse is set in 220 acres of luscious greenery so it is not a course with a city feel to it. Sitting beside the track itself is a nine-hole golf course and the extremely popular Knighton Park, which serves as a recreational area. With all the grass and trees nearby, it is easy to forget that you are just a stone’s throw away from two major A roads. We mention this because it is these roads that make Leicester Racecourse an easy place for car drivers to get to. No matter where you are coming from, you do not need to deal with any city centre traffic as the racecourse lies on the very edge of the outer ring road. Additionally, the M1 is only four miles away so there it is a simple drive no matter whether you are arriving from the north or the south.
Free car parking is available upon arrival and there is usually sufficient space. Ladies Day is the exception and the heightened demand for this fixture means there is a charge for parking. For public transport users, getting to the racecourse is hardly much more difficult. If arriving from well outside of the Leicester area, getting a train to the city centre is your best bet. Regular direct trains to and from the likes of Sheffield, London St Pancras, Birmingham and Nottingham serve Leicester every day of the week. From the train station, you simply have to head down one long road (the A6) to reach the racecourse. A taxi will take you there in around 10 minutes but there is also the 31 bus service that runs several times an hour.
As a dual-purpose course, Leicester hosts both Flat and National Hunt racing, doing so on the same right-handed oval circuit. There is however a chute leading out from the oval that sees sprints up to seven furlongs being run in a simple straight line. No matter if it is Flat or National Hunt racing you are watching, do not get carried away if your horse is leading as they enter the final straight as there is a long-run in to follow. Not only over four furlongs in length, but the sizeable home straight goes downhill and then back uphill, something which can easily catch out over-eager horses.
Another thing to be aware of is that the hurdles track can often see softer conditions than the chase track that lies on the other side of the rail. This is because hurdles events take place on the Flat racing track which is watered during the summer. This watering results in the track sucking up more rainfall during the wetter winter months and subsequently can place more emphasis on stamina.
Most of the time there is no strict dress code in operation at Leicester but you will want to avoid things, such as sportswear and ripped denim. You might not necessarily be kicked out for wearing these but extremely casual wear is not the done thing at racecourses and there is no point taking a risk. Smart casual is by far the more common approach and this will include things like a shirt and chinos.
On certain race days, Leicester may operate some stricter requirements but they will make this clear when it is the case. For hospitality areas, regardless of the fixture, you should always make an effort to look smart so avoid the likes of jeans, trainers, shorts and t-shirts. Going the extra mile is also encouraged on Ladies Day especially as there are prizes for those that finish high up in the Best Dressed Lady competition.
There are two stands at Leicester Racecourse, the largest of them is fittingly known as the main grandstand. Not only does this stand provide a large sheltered standing area but it sits in front of a sizeable concourse where you find lots of bookmakers. Further up the home straight, and in line with the finishing post, is the more vintage-looking Premier Stand and Bar that offers both seating and standing space. To enjoy racing in the utmost of comfort though you will want to head one building up as this is where the hospitality boxes, equipped with balconies, are located.
For standard admission, getting into the racecourse will cost you £18 if you are an adult or £15 if a student or over 65, when purchased in advance. Buying tickets at the turnstiles will only cost you an extra £2 should you need to make a late decision. This is the standard price for most race days but a few come at a small premium. If wanting to attend racing on a budget, keep your eye on Leicester’s first flat meeting of the year (usually early April). In the past, they have sold tickets for this for just £5.
Leicester holds 30 fixtures throughout the year with at least two featuring in any given month. It is worth noting that only four of these feature at the weekend with Leicester heavily favouring mid-week racing. If you struggle to get time off during the day, you may want to consider heading to any of the five evening fixtures that run between May and August.
Out of their 30 annual fixtures, Leicester does have six that bring in larger crowds and see slightly increased ticket prices due to the higher demand. These include the family fun days in June and August, the festive late-December meeting and of course Ladies Day in July. It is Ladies Day which is very much seen as Leicester’s social highlight of the summer and you will find many women showing off their fanciest dresses for the occasion.
Often the afternoon of racing is followed by live music in the evening, giving it a real party atmosphere. To allow people to really let their hair down, organisers let people leave their cars in the car park overnight, ready for a sober collection the next day.
Some hard-working historians have found evidence that racing took place in Leicester as long ago as 1603 with the Corporation Town Plate being the biggest event on the calendar. Racing was scrapped later on in the century but returned in 1720 at the Abbey Meadow location before moving to St Mary’s Field in 1740. Some racing did persist on Abbey Meadow but only for two years as heavy flooding in 1742 made it seem like a distinctly inferior location.
1773: Leicester Gets Its First Racecourse
By 1773, Leicester had its first racecourse, located at Victoria Park, and in 1807 it hosted the very first renewal of the Leicester Gold Cup, worth 100 sovereigns. It was not until 1883 that the racecourse moved to its present location in Oadby with the Victoria Park turned into a cricket ground. Around the time of the switch, Leicester was hosting some of the most valuable races the UK had to offer, such as the Prince of Wales Stakes and the Portland Stakes. These events were so lucrative that they paid out more money than any of the five classic races.
The Scandalous Flockton Grey Ringer Case
Oadby has been home to many great horses and jockey since, including Gordon Richards who scored his first-ever career win here on a horse named Gay Lord. The legendary Golden Miller, five-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner did the same 10 years later too. Despite this, Leicester Racecourse is probably best known for being the site of the Flockton Grey ringer case, one of the biggest betting scandals to ever hit British horse racing.
The quite incredible story involved a corrupt trainer (Stephen Wiles) and owner (Ken Richardson) who sought to scoop a quick profit. With Wiles without a winner in two years, when he entered Flockton Grey for his first race, the bookies priced the debutant at 10/1. Richardson and Wiles backed the horse to the sum of £20,000, doing so across various bookies to avoid arousing suspicion. Rather than letting Flockton Grey run though, they swapped him for another horse formerly owned by Richardson, Good Hand, who was aged three.
The step-up between two and three years old in horse racing is huge and to create an even contest, Good Hand should have run with an additional 47 pounds. As this did not happen, for obvious reasons, the three year old crushed the field, winning by 20 lengths. It was this huge margin of victory that immediately rang alarm bells, leading to bookmakers refusing to pay out. Before long, police found that Flockton Grey was not actually Flockton Grey and both Richardson and Wiles were punished for their conspiracy to defraud.