With Ripon being one of the oldest cities (and formerly the smallest too before the creation of many new cities) in England, it is a placed steeped in history. Horse racing has formed a significant part of its past too, with thoroughbred action having entertained locals for well over three centuries.
Naturally, the state of racing in Ripon has evolved over the years and what stands today is a beautiful and well-regarded small racecourse that is also known as Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse.
The delightful cathedral city of Ripon boasts plenty to see and explore. The racecourse is far from the only attraction it has to offer and thanks to this, it makes for a great short-break destination. Should you wish to stay the night before, or after (or both), a race meeting, there are a few convenient possibilities as this is a place that enjoys a fair share of tourists.
Centre of Ripon
There are a few places to stay right in the heart of Ripon. Popular options include the Unicorn Hotel, the Royal Oak, Valentino’s, and the White Horse. All of these well-established names come well-rated and lie close to Ripon’s many shops and restaurants. They are all just about within walking distance of the racecourse too, taking on average 30 minutes by foot. Alternatively, you can head to the nearby central bus station and hop on the free shuttle bus organised by the racecourse.
Outside of Ripon
If you fancy staying very close to the racecourse itself then there is only one real option, the rather unusually named Black A Moor Inn. This fantastic four-star hotel is situated less than a mile away in Bridge Hewick, to the east of the racecourse. It is not particularly accessible by foot though, despite its nearby location, due to the absence of a footpath on the adjoining country road. Keep heading down this road and after about five miles you will reach the small town of Boroughbridge. This is home to both the Grantham Arms and Best Western Crown Hotel.
Harrogate for Widest Availability
There are several hotels dotted around villages close to Ripon, such as the George Carvery & Hotel in Wormald Green, or the Chequers Inn located within Bishop Thornton, but there is not a wide selection. This is where the charming spa town of Harrogate can prove useful as it provides a convenient base for getting to Ripon and one with a huge assortment of accommodation options, as well as plenty to see and do whilst you are there.
By car, the two Yorkshire hubs are around half an hour away but the journey can also be made by bus with a service that runs every 20 minutes. Although Harrogate has a reputation for being expensive, and indeed there are many luxurious hotels here, there are some more affordable names such as the Premier Inn (x2), Travelodge and the Country Living St George Hotel.
About the Racecourse
It is thanks to its well-maintained lawns and flowerbeds that this idyllic racing venue is often referred to as the Garden Racecourse. It is a wonderful place to visit, especially for those that love green spaces and prefer smaller venues to the sport’s grandest cathedrals. The importance of being green is not something lost on the racecourse who incentivise the use of more carbon friendly transportation options. Anyone who arrives to the racecourse via bicycle, or via public transport from Leeds or Harrogate can get £5 off a Club or Paddock Enclosure ticket, an interesting scheme.
While on the topic of public transport, Ripon no longer has an operational train station but it is well serviced by bus. From Harrogate and Leeds there is a service that runs three times and an hour and this will take you to the centre of Ripon. To get to the racecourse from here you will either need to walk (approx. 25 minutes) or hop on another bus. One option is the 22 bus service that runs to and from York but this is a paid service, unlike the free shuttle bus option that collects from the bus station. Although multiple runs are made, usually the service collects 90 minutes the first race and 30 minutes after the last.
If driving to Ripon yourself, the racecourse is situated a stone’s throw away from the A61 and only a few miles from the A1. If approaching from the south, you will want to exit at junction 48 and drive down the A168 that runs parallel to the A1. When coming from the north, head off at junction 50 and then travel down the A61. In all directions, the drive is quite straightforward and there is free on-site parking available to all customers regardless of their ticket type.
As you may well have already noticed, Ripon Racecourse enjoys plenty of praise online from those that have attended but its quality has also been more formally recognised. It has been voted by the Racegoers Club as the ‘Best Small Racecourse in the North’ on several occasions, including in 2011, 2014 and 2015.
Ripon is not the only racecourse that is located close to water but so rarely do you see water (beyond relatively small ponds) within the inside of the track. Although you will not have a fantastic view of it, Ripon’s track is not only beside the banks of the River Ure but it is built around a sizeable lake. Now, you might think this wet combination makes it a major flood risk but seldom is waterlogging an issue.
Major floods happen less than once a decade while more minor waterlogging is usually cleared up within a matter of hours as the surface here is very fast draining. Subsequently, do not fear that a meeting you are planning on going to might be rained off as this would be an incredibly rare event. As for the course shape, Ripon has a right-handed oval circuit featuring a small off-chute to allow 6f races to be run in a straight line.
As the oval itself is rather squashed, there are two very cramped bends at either end of the course so the ability to turn well is important and more nimble types are generally preferred. Another key characteristic is not as obvious to the naked eye. Although the track looks flat enough, it is deceptively undulating and these climbs and falls, combined with the tight bends makes it quite testing in nature. Only Flat racing takes place at Ripon, so there are no hurdles or steeplechase events.
The Paddock and Course Enclosures are the most relaxed areas within Ripon Racecourse so in both you will find there is no official dress code. The only thing that is requested from guests is that they dress “in a manner of taste and decency” so this means avoiding any bare chests for example. Fancy dress is allowed but again, any costume must be in good taste and not likely to cause any offence. If you have any doubts about ither issue it may be best to contact the course in advance.
There is, however, a dress code enforced for any visitors located in the Club Enclosure. The general policy is smart attire and although a suit and tie is optional for the gents, a shirt and smart trousers are not. Jeans are included within smart trousers providing they have no tears or fraying and are not overly baggy. There are no specific requirements for ladies but they are advised to consider their footwear choices as there may be plenty of standing and some walking over grass.
There is plenty of overhead cover at Ripon thanks to the course having three separate stands. Furthest down the home straight you have a very basic, but very wide Paddock Stand offering standing space for thousands of visitors. Beside this, you have the central grandstand, which is split almost down the middle. One half, along with the aforementioned Paddock Stand, is open to visitors with a Grandstand and Paddock ticket. Ticket prices for here vary from £17 to £19 for adults, and £11 to £13 for concessions (pre-booked).
The other half of the central stand, where you will find the Rowels Boxes, is reserved for Club Enclosure ticket holders. With this upgraded entry you will also gain access to the smaller, but more comfortable Club Stand, located just past the winning post. Here you will have a place to sit while remaining under the shade. Club Enclosure entry costs between £23 and £26 for all adults (pre-booked) depending on the fixture selected. All ticket types mentioned so far are £1 or £2 more expensive if paying on the day.
Finally, and although it lacks a stand, it is worth quickly mentioning the Course Enclosure. Adults can pay just £7 for a spot here, or they can pay £20 to take their car inside (fee includes all passengers). Here you will find one of the two children’s play areas, the other being situated at the end of the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure. There is not too much else in the way of facilities although you will of course have access to toilets should you need them.
August sees two standout races take place at Ripon and the local prestige of the respective contests always draws in a healthy crowd. Up first is the Great St Wilfrid Handicap, which the meeting itself is named after. The race is a six-furlong sprint dedicated to the town’s patron saint and it frequently attracts a large number of runners. Ripon’s other racing highlight features on the August bank holiday Monday. Titled the Ripon Champion Two Years Old Trophy, its Listed classification enables it to attract some highly talented juveniles.
Although these two meetings are both big occasions because of their feature races, there are a couple of other fixtures that prove popular due to action off the course. Ladies Day in June is one, as not only are there prizes for the best dressed lady and the best hat, but a special hospitality marquee is set up for the event. To ensure the gents do not feel left out, Ripon also runs a Gentlemen’s evening, usually a few weeks later. Again, with handsome prizes on offer, there is plenty of fine attire on display for this too.
Although not as prestigious in terms of the action on the track, anyone looking to bring the kids along to racing here should be aware that Ripon typically runs four family fixtures per year. For each of these you will find a wide range of extra entertainment provided to keep the little ones happy. Not only are accompanied children admitted free of charge but all activities provided are without charge too.
Historical records tell us that racing took place in Ripon as long ago as 1664. Bondgate Green was initial site for these very early contests but over the next two centuries several other locations around Ripon were selected to host race meetings. Other locations included Mockton Moor and the High Common. When racing on the Common, there were two particularly notable meetings. The first, in 1723, was especially significant because it featured a race exclusive for female jockeys, something that had never been seen before at a UK course.
1725: Extreme Racing
Two years later, in 1725, Ripon pushed horses to the extreme during an incredibly gruelling schedule. Those that competed had to first take part in a four-mile heat, which would be challenging enough by itself, but there was not just one heat. To claim the prize, a horse had to compete in several heats all on the same day. Racing eventually moved from Ripon Common and wound up on Whitcliffe Lane at Redbank where it lasted for over four decades. When the course left this location, the grandstand ended up being used by a school.
Moved to Its Current Location
Although all of Ripon’s various sites for racing struggled to enjoy any real long-lasting success, the situation did change when moving to its current location on Boroughbridge Road. The move occurred in 1900 with the first meeting taking place on the 6th August that year. Steeplechase racing was held here very briefly but by 1902 Ripon had committed to flat racing only and the course has improved over the years sticking to that formula.