The High Gosforth Park venue of Newcastle Racecourse has been staging events since way back in 1881, rapidly becoming the North East’s premier track. Maintaining that status to this day, the course is amongst the busiest in the land, laying on a mix of all-weather and jumps action.
Looking out from your vantage point in the stands at this picturesque venue, set in 812 acres of parkland, it’s quite easy to forget that you are but a stone’s throw from the beating heart of Newcastle City centre and all it has to offer. Hugely popular with fans from near and far, the course continues to go from strength and is a track well worth a visit.
Lying so close to the hustle and bustle of the town centre, Newcastle Racecourse is unsurprisingly very well served by accommodation options for those seeking to extend their racing trip. And plenty do, with “The Toon”, remaining one of the nation’s favourite spots for stag and hen dos and night life enthusiasts. Looking for somewhere to stay either before or after racing? The options are plentiful …
Closest to the Course
Also nestled in the heart of Gosforth Park and only a couple of minutes’ walk from the entrance to the course, the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park leads the way in terms of proximity to the track. Highly rated by both solo travellers and groups, this is an understandably popular option so be sure to book early – particularly ahead of the season’s major events. Only a couple of hundred yards further down the road, the Travelodge Newcastle Gosforth is also but a short stroll from the track, whilst at just 1.1m, the Great North is well within walking distance too. Naturally, all of these options book up well in advance of all-but the quietest of Newcastle’s many meetings.
Newcastle City Centre
Lying only around five miles from the track, many overnight visitors choose Newcastle city centre as their base of operations. And being no stranger to tourists, Newcastle offers a range of options, from the budget to the truly swanky. The likes of easyhotel and Sleeperz are good choices for those seeking no frills comfort or a place to lay a weary or drunken head, whilst the swanky Grey Street Hotel and Malmaison offer more of an experience should you wish to push the boat out a bit. The Royal Station Hotel and Jury’s Inn meanwhile benefit from their proximity to Newcastle Central Train Station.
Having benefitted from significant investment in recent times the Quayside is a real hive of activity and offers numerous hotel options either side of the River Tyne and its famous bridges. For those seeking an excellent view, close proximity to the attractions of both the Quayside itself and Newcastle City centre, the likes of the Hotel du Vin, Stalybridge Suites and Ramada Encore are well worth considering.
Another popular spot for visitors, lying a little outside the city centre and only around 2.5 miles from the racecourse is the student-heavy location of West Jesmond. Featuring a wide range of bars on Osborne Road and strong transport links to both the City Centre and Gosforth, the area is also well served by hotels including the classy and boutique Jesmond Dene House and popular Caledonian Hotel.
About the Racecourse
Solely a turf venue for the majority of its lifespan, 2016 saw the biggest change in the history of the track as the all-weather flat course opened for the first time. With the turf jumps track also being retained, this enables Newcastle to stage events right throughout the year, ranging from the rustic charms of an afternoon National Hunt meeting to the spectacle of racing under the lights at a flat evening fixture.
And track organisers have certainly taken full advantage of this ability. Laying on around 62 fixtures per year, with at least one meeting in every calendar month, Newcastle Racecourse is now amongst the very busiest in the country. There’s quality amongst the quantity too, with highlights including the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle which often attracts Champion Hurdle hopefuls. It is however a handicap contest for which the track remains most famous, in the shape of the historic Northumberland Plate. Taking place in June each year, the two-day Plate Meeting is comfortably the best attended of the year.
Part of the track’s mass appeal is undoubtedly related to its accessibility to racegoers travelling from far and wide. Newcastle Central Station enjoys strong links with all parts of the country, being regularly serviced by both the northern lines and those travelling from the South West or Midlands. Once at the train station the track can be reached via a 15-minute taxi journey (costing around £10).
Public transport is also a viable option with the X11, X15, X21, X22, 43 and 44 all run from Haymarket Bus Station, located just off the main city centre shopping street of Northumberland Street. Newcastle also benefits from an extensive metro system. Monument, Manors, St. James and Haymarket are all based in the city centre, and will ferry racegoers to either Four Lane Ends or Regent Centre, from where a shuttle bus service operates for the major Saturday meetings.
And, for those driving to the course, the track is well signposted from the A1, A19, A69, B1318, and all other major approach roads to Newcastle. Following the brown and white tourist board signs featuring a horse and rider will get you there, or for those using the more modern approach of a satnav, the postcode is NE3 5HP. Once at the track an extensive, well signposted free car parking area is available on all race-days. 24-hour parking options include the nearby Regent Centre Multi-Storey Car Park and Times Square Car Park in the city centre.
The all-weather track at Newcastle consists of a Tapeta surface, and features a round section of close to 1m6f in circumference, made up of extensive straights and long sweeping turns. In addition to this left-handed round course, a further spur runs directly into the home stretch, enabling events at up to 1m to be staged on a straight track – handing Newcastle the distinction of possessing the longest all-weather straight course in the country.
Whilst the flat course is still relatively new, a couple of decent draw trends have emerged. On the round course, a low draw on the inside seems to be the place to be, but in events taking place entirely on the straight track, high numbers are favoured.
Lying to the inside of the round section of the all-weather track, the turf National Hunt course features broadly similar characteristics, albeit over a slightly shorter circuit length. A tough, galloping track, the 4f climb uphill to the line is notoriously arduous, so be sure that your selections have stamina on their side.
Much like the majority of tracks up and down the land, how you are recommended to dress for a day at the races very much depends upon the type of ticket you have and/or whether it is a major race-day or a more run of the mill affair. And much of the time the overall dress code is very relaxed. There is in fact no official dress code in place in the Grandstand, with the only advice being to remember to dress for the elements, as sections of the track are uncovered and, of course, this is the North East. Fancy dress is allowed, so long as it is not likely to cause offence.
For those in possession of a hospitality or Premier Enclosure ticket, a smart casual dress code is in operation – sportswear, trainers and fancy dress are not permitted in this area. Gentleman should wear a collared shirt, although a tie is optional. Most men opt for dress trousers or chinos, but smart jeans and tailored shorts are also permitted. For the ladies a smart dress or trouser suit is the most common choice.
And that is pretty much it in terms of the rules regarding attire at a track which does tend to operate towards the more informal end of the scale. Do be aware though that for the bigger meetings, and the Ladies Days in particular, many racegoers choose to don their finest outfits, with the track regularly dishing out “best-dressed” prizes at these fixtures.
There are two main enclosures at the track: Grandstand and Premier. At the biggest meetings, these two areas will be ticketed separately, but at the more standard fixtures they are often grouped together and operate as a single enclosure – whilst on other occasions only the Grandstand area may be open.
Tickets for the Grandstand vary from £12 to £20 for the vast majority of fixtures and provide access to the parade ring, winning post and a whole host of bar and catering options, including the Silver Ring bar. When operating as a single enclosure, additional access is granted to the Premier Enclosure Lawns and Colonel Porter Grandstand. Single Enclosure tickets are similarly priced at between £14 and £19.
When operating as its own area, Premier Enclosure tickets are priced at £23-£35 for most fixtures. Premier ticket holders are free to access all public areas of the racecourse and enjoy a range of modern food outlets and bars in addition to the excellent vantage point afforded by the seated areas of Colonel Porters Grandstand.
The above options cover the majority of fixtures, but at the season’s major events, or those offering live music after racing, prices do tend to rise to around £40 for the Grandstand and £60 for the Premier enclosure. Under 18s go free at most meetings so long as they are accompanied by a paying adult. Note that a £2.50 booking fee applies when purchasing tickets in advance, whilst a variety of catering and hospitality options are available, tending to be priced in the £60 to £110 range.
The majority of fixtures at Newcastle are standalone single day affairs, with handicapping action being the staple diet across much of the season. That doesn’t make them any less popular though, with most meetings being very well attended. These regular fixtures provide North East racegoers with plenty of opportunities to sample the track, and then of course there are the season’s major highlights, including a Grade 1 cracker and a three-day festival headlined by the North East’s most famous contest.
Northumberland Plate Festival
For North East racegoers the three-day Northumberland Plate Festival of June is the meeting around which the whole season revolves, and one of the first dates pencilled into the social calendar. The action gets underway with a low-key card on the Thursday, headlined by the historic Seaton Delaval handicap, before moving up a gear with an invariably sold-out Friday Night fixture featuring the Group 3 Hopping Stakes.
And then on the Saturday it’s the big one, as the Geordies descend on the track for one of the major staying handicaps of the season. First run back in 1833 and affectionately known as the “Pitmen’s Derby” this 2m showpiece attracts the best of the staying handicappers from up and down the country. With the Group 2 Chipchase Stakes amongst the support, a wide variety of catering options, trackside entertainment, and a cracking atmosphere throughout, this is the one meeting of the year which attracts fans from near and far.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle
The Northumberland Plate Festival may be the track’s most famous and popular meeting, but if it is equine excellence you are after then this Saturday fixture in November may be the time to visit Gosforth Park. The track’s only top-class event, either on the flat or over jumps, this 2m hurdle has been won by the likes of two-time Champion Hurdler Buveur d’Air and regularly attracts a star name or two from the jumping game.
Northumberland Plate Day may lead the way in terms of popularity and the speed at which the tickets sell out, but not too far behind it is the track’s signature Ladies Day of late July. The Geordie lasses generally need little excuse to dress up to the nines and add a little sparkle to proceedings, and they never disappoint at what is the biggest party atmosphere of the season. With live music from a big-name act keeping the party going after racing, this Saturday night fixture is no doubt the cause of many a Sunday morning headache!
Tales of racing in the Newcastle area hark back over 300 years, with King George II being amongst the biggest fans in the early days – establishing a King’s Plate event at the track in 1753. Killingworth acted as the stage for this initial action, before proceedings later moved to the historic Town Moor, which held the Northumberland Plate for the first time in 1833 and continued to do so until 1881.
The purchase of the Brandling Estate and associated land then saw the action relocated to a more practical, and picturesque location in 1882 – and there it has remained ever since. Expanding to include a nature reserve and two golf courses over the years, the site now represents a real oasis of calm in the midst of the urban sprawl.
1952: Eider Chase
Things remained fairly steady at the track throughout much of the 20th century, with the establishment of the Eider Chase in 1952 and Fighting Fifth Hurdle in 1969 providing jumps highlights to balance the historic Northumberland Plate on the level.
The 90s: Renovations
By the 1990s, however, both the track and its facilities had become noticeably stale. It was therefore met with some relief when Northern Racing stepped in to buy the track in 1994, with the company -now falling under the Arena Racing umbrella – pumping £11 million into the course over the following decade. This investment saw lots of work undertaken, including upgrading the stands, parade ring and the track itself.
2013: Converted from Flat to All Weather
Moving into the current century and the course seems to have entered something of a golden era, with the installation of David Williamson as managing director in 2002 sparking a further upturn in fortunes. And then, in 2013, came the most dramatic change since that initial shift to High Gosforth Park, as Arena Racing made the decision to convert the existing flat course to an all-weather track.
Controversial at the time, the switch is now almost universally lauded as a success. The track itself has been earning glowing praise, and the expanded fixture list means this thoroughly modern racecourse is financially secure and very well-placed moving into the future.