Lying just outside the town of Sedgefield from which it takes its name, we find one of the leading National Hunt venues in the north of England. Benefitting from a beautifully scenic countryside setting, the County Durham venue of Sedgefield Racecourse has been staging meetings for centuries now and continues to draw in the crowds, offering competitive racing fare and a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Given its picturesque setting and proximity to a number of northern urban hubs, many racegoers making the trip to Sedgefield may seek to extend their visit with an overnight stay. Happily, for those hoping to explore a little more of what the area has to offer, there is a multitude of accommodation options available, both close to the course and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
Whilst there are no hotels at the track itself, there are several within the town of Sedgefield, which sits only one mile to the north of the course. The Pickled Parson, the Impeccable Pig and the Dun Cow are all popular, solid-value options, whilst the country park setting of Hardwick Hall offers a pricier, but more luxurious alternative.
Although small, Sedgefield does possess a certain charm, boasting a handful of historical landmarks including the Grade II Listed, Hardwick Hall, in addition to a selection of intriguing drinking establishments, including the Golden Lion, Corner House and the aforementioned options.
Another viable option, and one which certainly has plenty to offer, is the cathedral city of Durham, which lies only 14 miles to the north of the track. In addition to the cathedral, Durham is also home to a historic castle and dozens of listed buildings, creating a real haven for history buffs. Unsurprisingly given its thriving university community, pubs and bars are also in plentiful supply, with the Drunken Duck, the Head of Steam and the Library amongst a host of popular options. Those looking to stay within Durham will find something to suit all tastes and budgets, from major chains such as Best Western, Holiday Inn and Campanile, to the higher-end Radisson Blu and Hotel Indigo.
If Durham is still not quite lively enough for you, why not head a little further north to Newcastle? One of the UK’s number one nightspots, and only a little over 25 miles from the course, if post-race entertainment is a priority, the “Toon” rates an obvious choice. Home to the Bigg Market, the Diamond Strip and the beautiful Quayside, the city also possesses plenty to keep the more culturally inclined entertained, including a range of historical points of interest, museums, and theatres.
In terms of accommodation on offer, a huge range of options are to be found on the banks of the Tyne. Jurys Inns, Holiday Inn and Malmaison are amongst a host of brand names represented, while Grainger House and the Newcastle West Hotel provide comfort on a budget, with Dream Apartments and the County being amongst the higher-end options.
About the Racecourse
A National Hunt-only venue, Sedgefield stages racing just about all year round, with June and July being the only blank months. All told, there are around 21 meetings spread over the course of the season, including two evening fixtures and two Sunday afternoon cards.
Only five minutes from Junction 60 on the A1, the track is easily reached by road, with the A689 and A19 also approaching the course. Sedgefield Racecourse is well signposted from all directions, but for satnav users, the postcode to enter is TS21 2HW. Once at the track, motorists will find ample free parking available, located just outside the course.
The closest train stations to the venue are those of Darlington and Durham which lie on the London to Edinburgh and Newcastle to Plymouth lines. A taxi to the track from either station will then take around 20 minutes. Racegoers travelling from Durham also have the option of the X12 bus service which stops in Sedgefield Town Centre. From Sedgefield, it is then a pleasant 25-minute walk or a short taxi journey to the course.
Sedgefield’s left-handed course lies somewhere between an oval and a rectangle in configuration and features pronounced undulations throughout its 1m2f circuit. A generally tight course, with sharp turns and fairly short straight sections, the track is well suited to nippy agile performers, with long-striding galloping types often struggling to get into a rhythm. Of the track’s undulations, the most significant comes in the home straight which, having initially descended, then rises steeply all the way to the line. Challenging on quick ground, the finish can become a real slog in softer conditions.
Utilising the outer portion of the course, the chase track features a total of eight fences per circuit, the final two of which lie in the home straight, prior to a run-in of around a furlong. Noted for being amongst the least demanding fences in British racing, the track witnesses a very low rate of fallers and unseats. The most difficult section of the course from a jumping perspective comes in the back straight, where the four fences do come up pretty quickly after one another, placing the emphasis on fast, accurate jumping.
Lying to the inside, the hurdles course is even sharper than its chase counterpart and features five flights per circuit, the final two of which again sit in the home straight before a short run-in to the line. In general, Sedgefield is well suited to front runners, particularly on good ground, although those tight turns and up and down sections do make this something of a specialist’s course. As such, any horse to have previously gone well at the track is well worth considering – a statement well-advertised by the Brian Ellison runner, Fatehalkhair, who won no fewer than 13 races around here.
There is no strict dress code in place at Sedgefield. Racegoers are free to dress as they please in the Course Enclosure, whilst of course remembering to stay on the right side of decency. Smart casual is recommended in the Grandstand and Paddock enclosure, with jogging bottoms, sports shorts, football or rugby shirts, skimpy tops and trainers all being advised against.
There are two main enclosures available at Sedgefield: those of the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure, and the Course Enclosure. Priced at £19 for a regular meeting and £21 for a premium fixture such as Ladies’ Day, the Grandstand and Paddock Enclosure is the main area of the track and affords access to the parade ring and winning enclosure, in addition to a range of bars and eateries, including the Sea Merchant Fish Shop and the Bistro 1927.
Only open on the more popular race days, the Course Enclosure is priced at a bargain £5, making it a hugely popular option with families seeking a good value day out. Located in the centre of the track, this area contains its own food, drink and betting facilities, in addition to a picnic and children’s play area.
Under 18’s go free with a paying adult in both main areas of the track, with concessions available for students and OAPs. Parties of 10 or more may also be eligible for a group discount. In addition to the standard ticketing options, a number of hospitality and dining packages are also available. For £25, the Sea Merchant deal provides entry, race card and fish and chips, whilst three and four course meal options from the Hoops Restaurant range from £87 to £110 per head.
Whilst invariably exciting and competitive, the bulk of the action at Sedgefield does tend to be of a mid to lower level in terms of the class of performers on show. There are nevertheless a number of fixtures that do stand out from the crowd. Whilst the themed and family fun days always prove popular with punters, it is the following three meetings that top the pile.
Making its debut in 1955 and initially held in the spring, this marathon 3m6f chase contest now takes place in October each year and acts as the track’s signature event. Serving as the centrepiece of a seven-race card held on a punter-friendly Sunday afternoon, this is always one of the first dates pencilled into the diaries of local racing fans and can be counted upon to attract punters from further afield.
Boxing Day Racing
A staple of the Sedgefield racing scene since way back in the 1920s, this festive feast of action continues to draw the crowds in their droves to this day. Handicapping and novice action are the order of the day on an exciting seven-race card, with an excellent atmosphere in the stands all but guaranteed with much of the crowd still in the Christmas party mood.
August each year sees the track take advantage of the weather to stage its annual Ladies Day, attracting many women of the northeast to descend upon the course in all their finery. With additional entertainment in the stands, excellent prizes on offer in the Ladies Style Awards, and a competitive seven-race card of action, this is comfortably one of the most popular events of the year.
Racing in the Sedgefield locale is reported to have taken place from as long ago as 1732, although little is known of these fledgling events. 1804 then marked the beginning of a more organised racing programme, with the Ralph Lambton Hunt taking charge of the meetings at the track. These fixtures held on the Sands Hall Estate did however remain fairly sporadic and low-key affairs.
1846: First Recognised Meetings Take Place
It wasn’t until 1846 that the first officially recognised meetings began to take place. Although even then, they remained relatively scarce, with only around two or three race days per season until the course was forced into closure between 1915 and 1920 due to the First World War. Despite the paucity of these meetings, the reputation of the course was beginning to grow, with the racing surface in particular regularly coming in for praise.
Sedgefield Racecourse Company
The death of the owner of the Sands Hall Estate, Richard Ord, in 1920 cast a little uncertainty over the future of the course, but by 1927 the Sedgefield Racecourse Company had been established to run the operation. Immediately beginning to increase the number of fixtures, it is this date of 1927 which is considered to be the start of the modern era for the track.
Frank Scotto Spruces Up the Course
Whilst the fixtures were increasing in number, the quality of the facilities saw little to no improvements over the coming decades. A fact that no doubt contributed to the track being threatened with closure as it entered the 1970s. However, in 1977 a man by the name of Frank Scotto took over as chairman and immediately set about improving the race day experience – taking the sensible decision to replace the existing tin huts with far more comfortable bars and restaurants.
Continuing to oversee investment in the track, Scotto opened both the Sedgefield Pavilion in 1991 and the Theakston Suite in 1995. The death of Scotto in 1997 again caused some to call the future of the course into question. That question was then raised more loudly in 1999, thanks to a terrible accident that led to the death of three horses in a novice chase.
Northern Racing Purchases Course
Thankfully for local racegoers though, the demise of Sedgefield proved to be a false alarm. With the safety issues having been rectified, Northern Racing stepped in to purchase the course in 2001 and promptly pumped a further £600,000 into improvements and upgrades.
Dwain the Dog
One of the track’s more unusual tales then came in 2004 came thanks to the exploits of “Dwain the Dog”. A Border Collie seemingly without a home, Dwain was regularly spotted running amok around the track on race days, to the extent that bookmaker Fred Done offered a reward of £500 for his safe capture. And having proved elusive for so long, Dwain eventually did succumb to the temptations of a “pork pie trap” late in 2004.
Having experienced something of an up and down time of things over the years, Sedgefield has always managed to overcome the obstacles thrown at it. Now seemingly enjoying a period of stability, the course continues to deliver in providing a relaxed, family-friendly, countryside racing outing.