Situated around 10 miles from the Welsh border, and only two miles to the north of the medieval market town from which it takes its name, we find the charming National Hunt racecourse of Ludlow. Surrounded by pleasant Shropshire countryside on an area of land known simply as the Old Field, this corner of the West Midlands has been entertaining racing fans for centuries now, and continues to draw in racegoers from far and wide with its famed friendly atmosphere and rural charm.
With much to see and do in addition to the excellent race day experience provided by the track, many racegoers may wish to linger a little longer in the area in order to sample the Shropshire scenery or take in the attractions of the nearby towns and cities. And, thankfully, for punters seeking to extend their trip with an overnight stay, several accommodation options are available, both close to the course, and a little further afield.
Lay Down in Ludlow
Described by English Poet John Betjeman as being “probably the loveliest town in England”, Ludlow certainly has plenty to recommend it, with close to 500 listed buildings, a historic castle and a selection of wonderful countryside walks within easy reach. And for those seeking something a little livelier, a range of pubs are available to cater for the 11,000 population of the town, and of course the visiting racing fans. The Wheatsheaf Inn and the Unicorn Inn regularly rate highly with visitors, or how about the Wicked Grin and Blood Bay for a slightly ominous-sounding finale to that pub crawl?
Whilst there are no accommodation options at the track itself, Victory Cottage to the east, and Fishmore Hall Hotel and Boutique Spa to the west both lie within half a mile of the course. The largest concentration of local accommodation options however is to be found within the town of Ludlow itself. The majority of these are bed and breakfast-style affairs, but the centrally located Town House, the Church Inn, and the Feathers Inn all provide a more traditional hotel experience.
Lying around 40 miles to the east of the track, England’s second city of Birmingham is the obvious choice for punters hoping to combine their racing trip with a city break. Boasting museums, art galleries, a botanical garden and a wildlife conservation park, there’s plenty to explore in “Brum”. Whilst for those who prefer their post-race entertainment to come in liquid form, the bustling Broad Street boasts a wealth of pubs and bars, including Rosies for drinks and dancing, Figure of Eight for the ever-reliable Wetherspoons experience and the Coyote Ugly Saloon for something a little different.
And as you would expect of one of the UK’s major urban hubs, accommodation options are in plentiful supply. Ibis, Holiday Inn, Jurys Inn and Best Western are just a few of the big-name brands represented. The Travelodge Birmingham Central Moor Street is very highly rated for a budget option, with The Edgbaston and Domo Boutique Hotel well worth a look for those seeking a more luxurious experience.
Head Down in the Hills
Of course, the hustle and bustle of a big city aren’t for everyone, with many racegoers seeking a more tranquil counterbalance to their day at the track. And so it’s just as well that the beautiful Shropshire Hills are located only just to the north of the course.
A designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the 802 square kilometres of the hills boasts a wealth of attractions for explorers, including the highest point in the county, Brown Clee Hill, and Shepherd’s Rock and Devil’s Chare, rock features. Throw in a whole host of rare wildlife, and it’s no wonder this border region is a real haven for lovers of the natural world.
Numerous accommodation options are scattered throughout what is a popular tourist spot, with the Stokesay Inn and B&B, Highgrove Barns and Robin’s Nest being solid choices for racegoers by virtue of being situated on the southern edge of the hills and close to the A49 which leads directly to the track.
About the Racecourse
A National Hunt-only venue these days, Ludlow lays on around 16 meetings between early October and mid-May, operating in line with the core jumps season. A resolutely low-key track in terms of the fare on offer, all bar one of those 16 fixtures takes place on a weekday, with the exception being the solitary Sunday fixture in early May.
Despite its distinctly rural location – with no major city within 40 miles – Ludlow racecourse is actually relatively straightforward to reach by road and rail. The A49 leads directly to the track and is the approach road to use for motorists arriving from the north and south. Those travelling from an easterly direction should take the A456 before turning onto the A49, whilst from the west, the A40, A483 and A44 all lead to the A49. For those using satnav, the postcode to the track is SY8 2BT. Upon arrival at the course, racegoers will find ample free parking available nearby.
For those arriving by rail, the closest station is that which lies within Ludlow town centre. A major stop on both the London Paddington to Newport and Newport to Crewe lines, the station should be within reach of rail travellers from most areas of the UK. Despite being just two miles from the track, a lack of footpaths makes the journey from the station something of a difficult walk. Racegoers are therefore advised to complete the last part of their trip either via taxi, or the free shuttle bus service which operates from the station to the track and back again, on all race days.
Both the chase and hurdles tracks at Ludlow are right-handed, oval and relatively sharp in nature. The two courses use what is essentially the same flat patch of land for three quarters of their journey, with the exception being in the back straight. Upon turning into the back straight, the two courses split, with the chase track continuing straight ahead, whilst the hurdles course loops to the outside, before reuniting with the chase course on the run towards home. The home straight itself is then around three furlongs in length, with a run-in of 250 yards following the final obstacle. Given this configuration, the hurdles course boasts the longer circumference of the two tracks at 1m5f, compared to the 1m4f of the chase circuit.
Those tackling the larger obstacles are faced with nine relatively easy fences per circuit. The most difficult of these is the first in the home straight because it comes up pretty quickly after a bend. Whilst the fences are amongst the least imposing in the land from a visual perspective, Ludlow does nevertheless see a surprisingly high number of fallers, largely as a result of the very strong pace in the majority of events. One benefit Ludlow has over many other tracks is the use of mobile, rather than fixed, fences, meaning the obstacles can be moved away from poor ground as and when required.
The hurdles course features six flights per circuit, all of which are padded with a horse-friendly foam, helping to decrease the risk of injury. Not quite so sharp as its chase counterpart, the hurdles track does feature slight undulations throughout the back straight, but not of sufficient severity to pose a problem to the more galloping type of performer.
Featuring a predominantly gravel-based subsoil, Ludlow is one of the fastest draining National Hunt courses in the country, lending it the ability to provide good racing ground even during the wettest months of the year. Possibly the most unique feature of the course though is the fact that it is crossed at three separate points by the B4365 road. Needless to say, the road is closed on all race days, with the sections which traverse the turf being overlaid with a carpet like material.
Over both hurdles and fences, those who like to lead or race up with the pace enjoy a distinct edge at what is a notoriously difficult track for hold-up performers. This advantage is particularly pronounced over distances of 2m1½f and below, where the stats show that front runners are around three times more likely to win than those looking to come from behind.
One of UK racing’s more relaxed and informal venues, Ludlow has a dress code to match. Vests, sports shirts, ripped jeans and shorts are prohibited in the hospitality areas, where smart casual attire is encouraged, but elsewhere on the track racegoers are largely free to dress as they please.
Anyone wishing to attend in fancy dress is advised to contact the track in advance in order to discuss the suitability of their proposed outfit. And finally, do remember to factor in the weather for what can be a wet and windy part of the world, as the majority of the course is uncovered.
There are three main ticketing options available at Ludlow all of which include a free race card. Priced at £23, the Members Day Badge grants access to the members’ enclosure and all other areas of the track except the Annual Members Club Room. A major perk of this option is the access it grants to the facilities of the Clive Pavilion, including a roast carvery and snack and drinks bars.
At £18, the Grandstand and Paddock Badge affords access to the Grandstand and Paddock enclosures including the food and drink facilities of the Tattersalls Café. Providing solid views of the action on the track and access to a range of mobile catering and bar facilities, the £10 Course Enclosure Badge is then the cheapest of the standard options. Under 18’s go free with a paying adult at all meetings and, whilst there is no discount in place for OAP’s, these veteran racegoers do receive a free £2 refreshment voucher with their ticket.
In addition to the standard badges, a range of hospitality packages are also available, with prices for the restaurants in the Plymouth Stand and Jubilee Stand beginning at £62.50 and £75.50 respectively. Priced at between £92.50 and £118 per head, the private boxes offer a more bespoke experience, including a private bar, free tea and coffee and a choice of menu options.
A distinctly small countryside venue, there are no contests at Ludlow which make much of an impact on a national scale, with the vast majority of events being of average quality. That fact doesn’t prevent the track from having a strong local following though, or from being well supported by a number of top trainers – Nicky Henderson in particular regularly sends runners here from his Lambourn base. Despite its relatively small scale, the track is renowned for the excellent prize money on offer, and as with all racecourses, boasts a number of fixtures that do stand out from the crowd.
Forbra Gold Cup Day
Taking place in late February or early March each year, the Forbra Gold Cup is the track’s signature event. A staying chase held over the three-mile trip, the contest is named in honour of the 1932 Grand National winner, whose owner Mr William Parsonage was based in the town of Ludlow, whilst the horse himself spent much of his career at the Kinnersley Stables in nearby Worcester. Held at the height of the National Hunt season on a Thursday in early March, this fixture is one of the first dates pencilled onto the calendar of local racing fans.
Tanners Wines Day
Taking place in the week before Christmas each year, and with the words, Cava, Champagne, Claret, Prosecco, Wines and Merry Christmas featuring in the race titles of the day, there is always something of a festive party atmosphere at this Wednesday afternoon fixture. The Tanners Champagne Handicap Chase takes centre stage, with the £25,000 in total prize money on offer making it one of the most valuable events of the year at the track.
Every course seems to have one and, whatever the location, the obligatory “Ladies Day” invariably proves to be immensely popular. This is a trend that certainly extends to Ludlow, with this mid-May fixture almost always amongst the best-attended meetings of the year. With the sun often shining, an array of additional entertainment on offer, best-dressed prizes, and of course competitive racing action, this fixture remains a firm favourite with local fans and those from further afield.
Rumour has it that they have been racing in this part of the Shropshire countryside for well over 600 years now, with tales of soldiers based at the nearby Ludlow Castle racing their steeds across the land way back in the 14th Century.
1729: First Official Race
It was however not until 1729 that the first race was officially recorded at the current site, and interestingly – considering the track’s current National Hunt-only character – that inaugural event was in fact a flat contest. As were all races in the early years, with the first hurdle event not taking place until 1850, and the first chase coming later still in 1870.
1904: New Grandstand
Almost as soon as it announced itself on the scene though, jumps racing slowly but surely began to take over completely, with flat events at the track but a distant memory by the time we reached the late 1800s. Having gripped local racing fans, the increasing attendance brought about by the jumps action sparked the building of a new grandstand in 1904.
Refurbishments Following the War Closure
The only real lull in the history of the course came as a result of its closure during the Second World War, with the course and its facilities being used as a base for around 2,000 US soldiers. That temporary lull did little to deter the growth of the track though, with substantial improvements and refurbishments being undertaken almost from the moment the war came to an end.
Moving into more modern times, Ludlow continues to maintain a pretty low profile on a national scale, whilst still managing to improve the raceway experience for the track’s loyal fans. 1992 saw the unveiling of the Clive Pavilion, with the classy Jubilee Stand then following in 2003. Boasting bags of historical character and countryside charm, the track looks well-placed to carry its run of understated success on into the future.