Lying just under a mile outside the town of Plumpton from which it takes its name, and around 14 miles to the north east of the popular seaside town of Brighton, we find the charming East Sussex track of Plumpton. Nestled close to the foot of the chalk hills of the South Downs, this small but perfectly formed venue mixes a stunning backdrop and rural charm, with all the facilities you would expect from a modern racing venue. Operating for close to 140 years now, the course continues to entertain local racegoers and those from further afield.
Being set in such an attractive corner of the UK – well within reach of both the beautiful countryside and the coastline – many racegoers making the trip to Plumpton may wish to extend their trip with an overnight stay. Those looking to linger a little longer are in luck, with a number of accommodation options available, both close to the track, and in the nearby tourist hotspots.
Closest to the Course
For those whom proximity to the course is the priority, Plumpton itself boasts a healthy dose of village charm, in addition to a small but highly rated selection of pubs. The latter include the distinctly rural-feeling the Half Moon and White Horse Inn, the Jolly Sportsman complete with excellent beer garden, and the Rainbow Pub & Carvery.
In terms of accommodation options, the Bull Inn is only around a mile from the track, with the Blacksmiths Arms, Premier Inn Burgess Hill and Horsted Place also within easy reach. The East Sussex National Resort & Spa and Buxted Park Hotel, meanwhile, come very highly rated and regularly offer discounted deals to racegoers. Not a bad selection nearby considering what a small track this is.
Bunk in Brighton
For those racegoers seeking something just a little busier than the laid back Plumpton experience, the south coast city of Brighton & Hove is the most obvious destination. Only around a 25-minute drive from Plumpton, and enjoying decent transport links with the village, Brighton is home to a famous pier and pavilion, and eclectic range of shops and eateries in the hugely popular “The Lanes” district. Those who prefer their post-race entertainment in liquid form will find no shortage of pubs and bars available, from the traditional Prince of Wales and the Victory, lively the Mesmerist, and the Fortune of War and Tempest Inn on the seafront.
And being a popular tourist destination, there are no shortage of hotels available too. Jurys Inn, Best Western, Hilton and Malmaison are all represented, whilst Number One and the Queensbury Hotel are amongst the more competitively priced offerings. The Grand Brighton meanwhile is more expensive, but does offer a pretty spectacular seafront stay.
Bunk Down in the Downs
Whilst a night on the tiles in Brighton will no doubt appeal to a large section of racegoers, others may desire something just a little more tranquil to pair with their racing trip. And what could be more relaxing than a stay in one of Britain’s most beautiful national parks? Taking in three counties in all, the eastern end of the South Downs National Park lies within East Sussex, and contains a range of stunning features including the famed Lillington White Horse and Seven Sisters cliffs. Throw in a diverse range of rare wildlife and excellent walks, and it is no wonder the park has become such a haven for nature lovers.
Accommodation options are spread almost across the full length and breadth of the park, with those in and around Lewes likely to be the most viable option for racegoers. The White Hart and the Dorset are amongst a selection of solid options.
About the Racecourse
A National Hunt-only venue, the 5000-capacity track at Plumpton lays on around 17 fixtures per year, all of which fall between the months of September and May, and so falling broadly into line with the core jumps season. Predominantly a midweek track, in the absence of any Saturday meetings it is the Sunday afternoon and Bank Holiday fixtures which tend to draw the largest crowds.
Despite its rural location Plumpton is relatively accessible by road, with the M23, A23, A27, A272, A273 and A275 all approaching the course. The track is particularly well signposted from all directions, but for those wishing to use satnav, the postcode to enter is BN7 3AL.
Upon arrival at the course, motorists will find ample free parking at the track’s two main car parks. The first of these is located in the centre of the course and is accessed via the railway crossing entrance, with the second sited near to the south entrance.
For those travelling by rail, Plumpton Station lies only around a three-minute walk from the track and is on the busy London Victoria to Lewes line. It generally has trains from the capital around once an hour and so train is certainly a good option for Plumpton.
An alternative for racegoers travelling from Brighton is the raceday minibus service operated by Chariots Chauffeurs. Departing from Brighton train station 90 minutes before the first race and leaving the track around 30 minutes after the last, a return ticket costs only around £5. Do be aware however that this service must be booked in advance.
At only around 1m1f in circumference, the left-handed circuit at Plumpton is amongst the shortest in the country. Close to rectangular and undulating throughout, the track features tight turns and a home straight which climbs steadily all the way to the line.
Utilising the inner portion of the track, the chase course is that bit tighter than the outer hurdles layout and features a total of six fences per circuit. The final two of these obstacles sit in the home straight, with a run in of around 200 yards following the last. Whilst the fences themselves are relatively straightforward, the track does regularly see a higher-than-average number of fallers. However, most put this down to the number of lower class and novice events staged at the track, rather than any inherent difficulty of the obstacles. Of the six fences, it is the first in the back straight which tends to draw the most errors, due to the fact that the ground falls away fairly dramatically on the landing side.
Events over the smaller obstacles feature five flights of hurdles per circuit, the final two of which are almost identically positioned to the corresponding fences on the chase course. One notable feature of hurdle contests around here is that they do tend to get racing quite a long way from home, bringing stamina into play up the inclining home straight.
Over both hurdles and fences, the tight turns of this track are far more suited to nimble, agile performers able to jump accurately at speed, rather than long striding galloping types. Generally undemanding from a stamina perspective, things change when the rain arrives as, due to the slow-draining clay subsoil, Plumpton is a track which can become very wet, very quickly. A tricky track all in all, and one at which those runners with solid previous course form are well worth a second look.
A relaxed countryside venue, Plumpton has a dress code to match, with no official rules regarding the choice of attire in the main areas of the track – whilst of course advising against anything likely to prove offensive in nature. Things are a little stricter in the Paddock or Marquee Restaurants, where smart casual dress is a requirement, with smart jeans permitted.
At all meetings other than those taking place on a weekend or bank holiday, the Grandstand and Paddock enclosure is the only standard ticketing option available. Priced at £18 for midweek meetings and £22 for feature race days, the entry fee grants access to all areas of the racecourse, including the Premier, Southdown and Chasers bars, the Plumpton Pantry and range of mobile eateries.
Located in the centre of the course, the Picnic Enclosure is opened for all weekend and Bank Holiday meetings and features the Centre Course Bar and its own array of catering and betting facilities. Tickets for this family friendly area are priced at £17 for adults. Those aged 17 or under go free with a paying adult in all areas of the track.
In addition to the main enclosures, a range of restaurant and private box offers are also available for those who fancy a little more style and luxury. Located on the first floor of the Sussex Stand, the Paddock Restaurant provides panoramic views, a table for the day, three course lunch and welcome drink for £75, with the Marquee Restaurant offering a similar deal at £65 per head. The Directors Suite and Private Boxes meanwhile provide a more bespoke experience, with the advice being to contact the track in advance in order to discuss your individual requirements.
Whilst being hugely popular with locals and renowned for an excellent race day experience, high quality action is not something commonly associated with the East Sussex venue, with much of the fare on offer being of average quality. That doesn’t make the racing any less competitive or entertaining though, whilst the healthy quota of novice contests regularly attracts more promising sorts from the bigger yards. In terms of individual race days, the following three come out ahead of the rest, beginning with the race for which the track is best known.
Taking place in early January each year, this 3m5f staying handicap chase is the undoubted showcase contest of the season at the track, with the £30,000 in total prize money on offer regularly seeing the maximum field size of 18 reached. Always a thrilling spectacle, the main event is backed by six further exciting contests and invariably draws the locals in their masses.
Cheltenham Preview Race Day
Early March is of course the time of year when National Hunt fever really begins to grip sports fans, and Plumpton does its bit to ramp up the excitement with this special Cheltenham Preview race day. Annually taking place on the Monday before the Cheltenham Festival, those arriving early at the track are treated to a preview of the week’s Prestbury Park action, with input from guest speakers including trainers and jockeys. And following the early afternoon activities, the track lays on a competitive six race card, featuring a mix of novice and handicapping action. None of these are likely to turn up at the Festival but it is certainly a fantastic way for local racing fans to whet their appetitive whilst getting a little expert insight at the same time.
And of course it wouldn’t be a top fixtures list without a Ladies Day. Plumpton’s falls in early May each year and, doubling as the season finale, is comfortably one of the biggest and best days at the course in terms of attendance and atmosphere. With a funfair, live music, and best-dressed prizes for ladies, men and children, in addition to a seven-race card on the track, this springtime fixture ensures the course bids farewell to another season in style. And hopefully the weather might even play ball at this time of the year too!
First opened in 1876 by a gentleman by the name of Thomas Case, Plumpton was initially dedicated to the dubious pursuit of hare coursing. 1884 however saw the first race meeting held at the site, with a horse by the name of Cowslip winning not only the inaugural contest, but also another race later on the same card.
Initially failing to take off, there were no races in 1886 due to financial difficulties, but racing returned in 1887 and by 1889 was the sole activity taking place at the site, with the hare coursing mercifully coming to an end.
1890: New Steeplechase Course
1890 saw the track boosted by the laying out of a new steeplechase course, but fixtures remained a little up and down in terms of numbers, ranging from a low of just 2 to a high of 15. In common with many tracks, Plumpton then took an enforced break between 1916 and 1918 due to the onset of the First World War.
1920: Spectator Takes Over for a Jockey
One of the more unusual incidents at the track then came in 1920 when, having unshipped his jockey, Longerline was remounted not by his original rider, but rather by a watching spectator, who went on to finish second in the race. An achievement to boast about, so long as you forget the part about there being only two runners in the race!
Closure During Wartime
Again closing during the war years of 1942-1945, the next significant event in the history of the track came in 1961 when the purchase of the course by Isidore Kerman was swiftly followed by significant investment and upgrades to the facilities, with the signature Sussex Stand opening in 1967.
1987: Southdown Stand
Moving ahead to the 1980s, 1980 itself saw a certain Prince Charles make his debut as a jockey in a charity event, ultimately finishing second to racing presenter and commentator, Derek Thompson. Later in the decade, in 1987, the brand-new Southdown Stand first opened for business.
The early 1990s then saw a slight downturn in fortunes, to the extent that Plumpton looked set to be taken over by property developers and closed for good. Happily, for local racing fans, this scenario was averted when the racing friendly duo of Adrian Pratt and Peter Savill stepped in to purchase the site, effectively safeguarding its future.
Best Small Racecourse in the South in 2018
Hitting the headlines in 2009 when Tony McCoy recorded his 3,000th career win in the saddle at the course, Plumpton continues to tick along nicely, with the excellent rural race day experience it provides seeing the track win the title of Best Small Racecourse in the South in 2018. It is not a course to draw in racegoers from far and wide but if you live in the south of the country it certainly offers a fine day out, with plenty of good hotel choices nearby too.