Situated just to the north of the busy market town from which it takes its name, Newton Abbot boasts the distinction of being the most westerly of the 59 racecourses on the British mainland. Nestled in a picturesque Devon valley, and sitting on the banks of the River Teign, this independently owned course is one of a number of small track gems to be found on the British National Hunt roster. It has been attracting punters for over 150 years now and this charming countryside venue has developed to become a key player on the summer jumping scene.
Operating during the warmer months of the year, and lying so close to Dartmoor National Park and the coastal hotspots of Exeter and Torquay, Newton Abbot is ideally placed to take advantage of the tourist market. And being such a popular area of the UK, it will be no surprise to learn that those seeking to extend their visit with an overnight stay will find a multitude of accommodation options available, both close to the track and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
Only around three-quarters of a mile to the south of the track, and home to the closest train station to the course, the town of Newton Abbot scores top marks for convenience and proximity. Small and charming, rather than big and bustling, the town nevertheless offers a decent selection of traditional pubs and bars, with a friendly welcome surely all but guaranteed in the Jolly Farmer and the Jolly Abbott.
Those looking to stay in Newton Abbot will find around a dozen solid options from which to select. The extremely highly rated Apartment 18 benefits from being positioned but a stone’s throw away from the train station, whilst the Welcome Retreat and Hartree Guest House are popular choices in the west of the town. Lying to the north of the track, the small settlement of Kingsteighnton provides further options, with the town’s Passage House Hotel actually the closest hotel to the course.
In the City
Charming as Newton Abbot is, many racegoers may seek a slightly livelier location for their post-race entertainment. For those hoping to combine their racing trip with a city break, the most viable option is Exeter, lying only around 17 miles to the north of the track. Home to the second of Devon’s racecourses, a stay in Exeter can be plotted to take in an additional racing outing, whilst other attractions include Crealy Theme Park, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, and Powderham Castle.
A range of excellent pubs and bars are also available for those who prefer to take their entertainment in liquid form, with the Fat Pig, Ship Inn and Prospect Inn all rated highly by visitors. As the second-largest city in the county, accommodation options are in plentiful supply. Big-name brands represented include Mercure, Holiday Inn and Best Western, whilst the traditional White Hart offers a solid experience at a solid price. For the more luxuriously inclined, the Mill on the Exe and City Gate come highly recommended.
The Delights of Dartmoor
It is with good reason that the southwest of England is one of the UK’s most popular tourist destinations, and lying only just to the west of the track is one of the county of Devon’s main attractions – the beautiful Dartmoor National Park. Home to a breath-taking collection of woodlands, rugged granite outcrops and standing stones, in addition to a spectacularly diverse array of wildlife, this stunning location is a true haven for nature lovers.
Drawing in a huge number of visitors each year, the perimeter of the park is peppered with accommodation options, with something to suit most tastes and budgets. By virtue of lying on the eastern edge of the park, the Globe Inn, Northgate House and Dartmoor Lodge are all within easy reach of the track and regularly rate very highly with visitors.
About the Racecourse
As a summer jumping venue, the season at Newton Abbot operates largely outside that of the core National Hunt campaign, with the track’s 18 meetings all taking place between late March and the end of October. That programming is certainly no accident at a course whose business model is centred around the summer tourist trade. Overall, the action at the track can’t be described as being of the highest quality, but it is invariably competitive and does attract runners from the major yards – most notably that of Paul Nicholls who is based only seventy miles away in Ditcheat.
Given its location, the majority of visitors driving to the track will likely be arriving from a northerly direction, in which case the quickest route is to follow the M5 to Junction 31 before turning off onto the A380 and following the signs to the track. Those travelling from the south and west should take the A38 onto the A380, whilst the A381 is the main approach road from the east. For satnav users, the postcode to use is TQ12 3AF. Upon arrival at the track, motorists will find a substantial free parking area located in the centre of the course.
For those arriving by train, the closest station to the course is within the town of Newton Abbot itself. Lying on the main line from London Paddington, the station should be relatively easy to reach from most areas of the UK. The track then lies only around three-quarters of a mile from the station, well within walking distance, or a short taxi ride for those who don’t fancy the stroll.
At only around 1m1f in circumference, Newton Abbot’s tight left-handed track possesses one of the shortest circuits in the whole of UK racing. Broadly oval in shape, the terrain is almost completely flat throughout. Even so, balance and an ability to travel well are key components to success, due to the extensive turning sections. Come off the bridle early around here and it can quickly become hard work, with the tight turns and short straights providing little opportunity to settle back into a rhythm.
Runners tackling the chase course are faced with seven fences per circuit; five plain, one water jump and an open ditch, with the final two obstacles lying in the home straight, prior to a short run-in to the line. Relatively straightforward, the fences tend to cause very few problems, although the first obstacles in the backstretch and home straight do come up pretty quickly following a turn. But even with those features – and the fact that races tend to be run at a strong pace – statistically speaking this is one of the easiest jumping tests in the country.
Featuring just the five flights per circuit, jumping accurately at speed is the name of the game over hurdles. Taking place on the same circuit as that of the chase course, the only difference comes in events over 2m3f which begin in a very short spur after the winning post. In common with the chase track, the final two obstacles again lie in the home straight, the second of which sits even closer to the line than its chase counterpart. Jump the last in front on the hurdles course, and more often than not you will still be in pole position come the line.
Overall, prominent racers hold the edge over both hurdles and fences, with speed favoured over staying power at what is an undemanding course. Given the relatively simple challenge it represents, Newton Abbot is viewed as an ideal track at which to introduce inexperienced horses, or those making the switch from the flat.
Smart casual is the recommended choice of attire in both the Course and Paddock Enclosures at Newton Abbot. Jeans and shorts are permitted, with the only stipulations being against arriving in a vest or completely topless. Things are a little stricter in the restaurant and hospitality areas, with shorts, t-shirts, ripped jeans and trainers all being prohibited. Finally, the track recommends that racegoers remember to factor in the weather although, unlike at many courses, the suggestion is not to bring a large umbrella, but rather an ample supply of sun cream.
There are two main enclosures in operation at Newton Abbot, namely the Course Enclosure and the Paddock Enclosure. Priced at £12 for all meetings, the course enclosure grants access to the Alfresco Catering outlet, Picnic Area, Children’s Play Area and the Course Enclosure Bar and Café. £7 more expensive at £19 per ticket, the Paddock Enclosure is home to the Paddock Restaurant, Paddock Carvery, Winning Post Restaurant and Silks Lounge. Students with valid ID gain free entry, as do under 16s when accompanied by a paying adult.
In addition to the standard ticketing options, a range of hospitality and private box packages are available. Three-course meal deals begin at around £65 in the Paddock Restaurant, with a similar offer in the swankier Winning Post Restaurant coming in at £90. Priced at £55, £88 and £90 respectively, the Bronze, Silver and Gold Private Box packages offer a more bespoke experience, with the advice being to contact the track to discuss the size of your party and preferences.
Up until recent times, Newton Abbot did play host to a relatively high profile contest in the shape of the Listed class Lord Mildmay Memorial Handicap Chase. With that staying contest having been discontinued following the 2015 renewal though, what remains is a fixture list without any really signature events. That being said, the action around here is invariably entertaining, and there are still those race days that stand out from the crowd in terms of profile and popularity.
Taking place in peak summertime towards the end of June, this Tuesday afternoon fixture sees high fashion and horse racing collide. Comfortably the most glamourous meeting of the year, and one which is frequently bathed in sunshine, additional entertainment in the past has included topless butlers from the Desirable Butlers company (seemingly forgoing the usual dress code rules), a fashion show and a GB versus Ireland female jockeys’ race. Throw in live music after racing and the staple Best Dressed Lady competition, and it is no surprise that this is one of the best-attended meetings of the year.
Depending upon exactly how the calendar falls, this punter-friendly fixture regularly acts as the season opener at the Devonshire track. With special family ticket deals on offer, free Easter Eggs to the first 200 children through the gates, and a bumper eight-race card on the track, this is another of the first dates pencilled into the diaries of local racing fans.
If the quality of the racing fare tops your list of priorities, this Saturday afternoon fixture in late August may well be the time to drop in on Devon. Not that there are any truly top-level contests on the card, but the overall standard is still a notch above the average meeting at the track, with a Class 2 Handicap Hurdle for the stayers serving as the headline act, and regularly attracting runners from a number of the top yards. With a fair chance of the sun shining, there’s invariably an excellent atmosphere in the stands at what is the track’s summer showpiece.
Established over 150 years ago, when a collection of local racing enthusiasts clubbed together to purchase the 91-acre site, the first recorded meeting at the track took place over the weekend of the 9th and 10th August 1866. In the pre-TV and radio days, word of live racing entertainment in the area soon spread, with the fledgling course becoming a major local attraction in double-quick time. Almost too quickly for those running the course, with the facilities in the early days failing to keep up with the level of demand – a situation which persisted for much of the first 50 years of the track’s lifetime.
In common with a number of British racecourses, Newton Abbot took an enforced break at the onset of the First World War, with the site being used by Allied troops and as a Prisoner of War Camp. A similar closure ensued during World War II, with the track staging just the one fixture over the course of the global conflict. Any concerns that the thirst for racing in the area may have diminished during the war years were however quickly dismissed, as a bumper crowd of 17,500 turned up for the first post-war meeting on the August Bank Holiday of 1945.
Fast forward to 1969 and the track finally did receive a significant upgrade to facilities with the Queen Mother gracing the course to officially open a long overdue main grandstand. 1981 then saw a significant moment for the Queen Mother’s grandson, as keen amateur rider Prince Charles made his final racecourse appearance aboard the Queen Mother owned, Upton Grey.
One of the most notable periods in the track’s history began in 1974 when, following the closure of the site at nearby Kingskerswell, a greyhound track was constructed inside the final turn of the racecourse. Never officially affiliated with the National Greyhound Racing Club, the track operated as an independent or “flapping” track until closing for business in 2005. Moving back into the horse racing sphere, 1990 saw the track unveil an impressive array of new corporate facilities, in addition to introducing a rolling programme of improvements –with the works to take place during the winter off-season each year.
Racecourse Owners Association Gold Award
Now showing a commitment to the race day experience that was glaringly absent in the early years, the track is also proving an overwhelming hit with connections – being handed the Racecourse Owners Association Gold Award on no fewer than seven occasions between 2012 and 2019. Popular with punters, owners and trainers alike, and sitting in such a pleasant part of the UK, Newton Abbot may be amongst the nation’s smaller tracks, but is nevertheless well worth a visit should you travel to these parts.