Of the 59 racecourses spread across the British mainland, just the one is to be found in the West Midlands County of Staffordshire. Almost on the border with Derbyshire, and close to the banks of the River Dove, Uttoxeter Racecourse resides on Wood Lane only around a mile outside the market town from which it takes its name. Providing racing fans with National Hunt entertainment for over 100 years now, the track continues to draw in the crowds.
Situated in such a picturesque area of the UK, within close proximity to a number of bustling urban hubs and the beautiful English countryside, many racegoers making the trip to Uttoxeter may wish to extend their visit with an overnight stay. Happily, for those seeking to do so, accommodation options are readily available – both close to the track and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
Should proximity to the track be a priority, both Woodleighton Cottages and High View Cottages lie within a mile of the course and offer extremely highly rated facilities in a countryside setting.
A slightly larger concentration of hotels is to be found in the town of Uttoxeter itself which, at only around a mile away, is well within walking distance. A popular market town, Uttoxeter offers plenty to keep visitors entertained, including Nelsons Distillery & School, and a pair of intriguing museums in the shape of Beamhurst Museum and Redfern’s Cottage Museum of Uttoxeter Life. For those who fancy a post-race tipple, the town crams in plenty of pubs for its size with the Vaults of Uttoxeter, Horse & Dove and the Steeplechase all being well worth a look. The White Hart Hotel, the Bank House Hotel and the Meadows Way Guest House meanwhile feature among the accommodation options available.
Doze in Derby
Despite its many charms, Uttoxeter may well be a little on the small side for some racing fans. Under 40 miles away to the south, Birmingham is a viable option for those seeking the big city experience, whilst Stoke and Burton are also well within reach. Or how about the city of Derby, which sits only around 20 miles to the east of the course?
Home to the serene Markeaton Park, a beautiful cathedral, and a range of museums and art galleries, there’s more than enough to satisfy those seeking a little culture, whilst the Last Post, Noahs Ark and Ye Olde Dolphin Inne are amongst the excellent selection of pubs on offer. Tempted by a stay on the banks of the Derwent? Major chains Holiday Inn, ibis, and Marriott are all represented, whilst the Cottage and the Lion Hotel are alternatives for the budget-conscious visitors.
Peace in the Peaks
If peace and tranquillity are more your things, the scenic delights of the Peak District are only 15 miles to the north of the track. Home to a diverse array of plant and animal life, the park features a number of famous landmarks, including Mam Tor and Thors Cave, with a number of guided walks available to take in the sites.
One of the UK’s most popular tourist spots, the Peak District is well served by accommodation options. By virtue of lying close to the southern edge of the park, the Royal Oak, George and Dragon Ashbourne, and the Okeover Arms are amongst the most conveniently located for Uttoxeter racegoers.
About the Racecourse
Despite being a jumps-only venue, Uttoxeter stages meetings all year round, making the track a key player in both the core National Hunt campaign, and the Summer Jumping season. All told the course lies on a total of 25 race days, including 13 weekend meetings and three evening fixtures. As popular with trainers as it is with punters, the track regularly attracts runners from the top jumping yards.
Sitting just off the A50 – at around the midpoint between Burton and Stoke – Uttoxeter is easily reached by road from all directions; the M6 approaching from the north and south; the A50 from the east; and the A50 and A518 from the west. The track is very well signposted from the major approach roads and Uttoxeter town centre, but for those using satnav the postcode to enter is ST14 8BD. Upon arrival at the course, motorists will find ample free parking available.
For those arriving by rail, Uttoxeter Train Station is located only just across the road from the course, and receives regular services from both Derby and Stoke – which in turn enjoy strong rail links with many of the UK’s major cities.
Broadly oval in configuration, the main distinguishing feature of Uttoxeter’s 1m2½f, left-handed track is the back “straight”. Rather than running straight, this section features a “dog-leg” which veers left and then right, before turning left again into the bend. In addition to these zig-zagging twists and turns, the backstretch also features the track’s most pronounced uphill section as the terrain rises over Clump Hill, before descending around the bend into the four-furlong home straight which is almost completely level throughout.
Utilising the outer portion of the track, the chase course isn’t quite so sharp as the inner hurdles layout and features a total of eight moderately difficult fences – the final four of which come in the home straight, prior to a run-in of close to a furlong. The tighter hurdles circuit contains a total of five flights on the main oval, and an additional one in a short spur from where contests run over two miles begin.
Featuring sharp bends and extensive galloping sections, the track is something of a mixed bag in terms of the type of runner favoured, with both long-striding and more agile sorts generally able to cope. The pace bias at the track is almost solely dependent on the ground conditions. Prominent racers fare best when the ground is riding good or quicker, with hold up runners regularly performing well in softer conditions. When it gets soft around here it can get very soft indeed, placing a real premium upon stamina.
A relatively relaxed countryside venue, Uttoxeter employs a dress code to match, with the only strictly prohibited items being sports shirts, ripped jeans, casual shorts, and the dreaded white trainers.
Broadly speaking, most racegoers opt for smart casual attire at the majority of fixtures, whilst bigger meetings such as “Ladies Day” attract a more elegantly attired crowd. Whatever you choose to wear, don’t forget to factor in the weather, with sensible footwear being essential in the grassed Centre Course enclosure.
There are three main enclosures available at Uttoxeter: the Grandstand & Paddock, the Premier, and the Centre Course. Priced at £18 for a standard race day, £21 for a weekend meeting, and £25 for a premium fixture such as “Ladies Day”, Grandstand & Paddock admission grants access to the Betting Hall, Parade Ring, Pre-Parade Ring, and a range of food and drink outlets, including Wrights Pie Shop and the bustling Marstons Bar.
Priced at £23, £25 or £35, depending upon the fixture, a Premier Enclosure ticket affords access to all public areas of the course, excellent views of the parade ring, pre-parade ring, and winning post, and a range of higher-end food and drink options, including the Premier Bar and Hoops Champagne Bar.
The Centre Course enclosure is then the most relaxed area of the track and is hugely popular with families. Containing its own catering and betting facilities, tickets are priced at £10 or £12, again depending upon the meeting. Premiums will apply to all of the above prices for special events including those featuring a big-name music act. Kids go free with a paying adult at the majority of meetings, whilst students and OAPS receive a £5 discount on tickets purchased on the day.
In addition to the standard ticketing options, a number of hospitality packages are available. Priced at between £140 and £220 per head, The 1907 Restaurant offers a three-course meal deal complete with a glass of bubbly on arrival, a reserved table, and balcony viewing. Larger parties may be interested in taking advantage of the track’s private box and marquee facilities, with the best advice being to contact the course in advance in order to discuss your specific requirements.
With a high percentage of fixtures scheduled to take place either in the evening or at the weekend, Uttoxeter’s punter friendly calendar lends itself to high attendances. Most meetings at the Staffordshire venue benefit from an excellent atmosphere, but in terms of popularity, and buzz in the stands, it is the following three which top the pile.
Midlands Grand National
Uttoxeter does its bit in adding to the jumps racing fever of March, with this meeting held on the Saturday following the Cheltenham Festival. With a marathon trip of 4m1½f, the Midlands Grand National is just a furlong shorter than the UK’s longest race, the Aintree Grand National. And whilst not quite on a par with what is the most famous jumps race on the planet, Uttoxeter’s flagship contest does see the Saturday afternoon spotlight shine down on this corner of Staffordshire. With seven competitive contests on the undercard, and a capacity crowd all but guaranteed, this is undoubtedly the tracks standout fixture.
Not too far behind the Midlands Grand National, in terms of anticipation with local racegoers, is this race day dedicated to the fairer sex. Preceding the track’s “Ladies Day” of July, this early June fixture benefits from a Thursday evening slot which regularly sees tickets sell out quickly. With additional entertainment including a live DJ or music act, and excellent prizes on offer in the Best Dressed, and Best Hat competitions, “Ladies Night”, and its companion fixture of “Ladies Day”, are comfortably Uttoxeter’s most glamourous meetings.
Family Fun Day
Late May each year sees the track lay on an excellent family day. Promising a fun day out for all, a low key but competitive card of racing action is complemented by all the fun of the fair in the Centre Course area. Generally based around a specific theme, the entertainment on offer includes fairground rides, inflatables, face painting and balloon modelling. One of the main selling points at this fixture is the excellent value “Family Bundle Package”, which for £50 contains 2 adult admission tickets, access for up to six children and £20 of food vouchers which can be used at a variety of outlets.
Up until the early 1900s, racing interest in Staffordshire had been centred upon the county’s sole racecourse at Keele. The 1906 closure of that track left a gaping hole which needed to be filled. Happily, for local racing fans, the absence of a racetrack in the area didn’t last very long at all.
Keen to see racing return as quickly as possible, a consortium of racing inclined businessmen established a company with the sole purpose of restoring racing to Staffordshire. Taking over the licence held by Keele, a new course was up and running at the current Wood Lane site in double quick time – holding its first meeting in 1907.
A 13 Year Absence
Staging just the five meetings per year in those early days – most of which were exclusively attended by the nobility, gentry and prominent sportsmen – Uttoxeter ticked on slowly but steadily until being forced into closure at the onset of the First World War. Resuming in 1921, the track continued laying on only a handful of fixtures, until again forced to take a break when requisitioned to be used as part of the war effort between 1939 and 1945.
Upon the conclusion of the war, Uttoxeter did not immediately reopen as expected, due to the price demands of the local farmer from whom the track leased a portion of the land. Whilst the future of the track looked in serious doubt at one stage, disaster was ultimately averted when the Uttoxeter Urban Council struck a deal to purchase the haggled-over acreage. Following a 13-year absence, the course reopened on 12th April in 1952 with an impressive crowd of 12,000 turning up to mark the occasion.
A Much Needed Facelift
The track then received a major boost in 1966, with the Horse Raxing Levi Board allocating £167,000 to be spent on a much-needed facelift – directed by Olive Davis, who was at the time one of only two racecourse Chairwomen in the country.
Fast forward to 1988, and the purchase of the track by the Sir Stanley Clarke-backed Northern Racing Company marked the beginning of Uttoxeter’s modern era. Bringing a substantially increased budget, Clarke oversaw the building of two new grandstands and upgraded paddock area within 10 years of taking charge. Also a horse owner, Sir Stanley’s star performer, Lord Gyllene finished second in the 1997 Midlands Grand National here, before going one place better in the big one at Aintree that same year.
Track Record Holders
A good track at which to spot a milestone moment, Josh Gifford set a record for single-season winners here in 1967, whilst AP McCoy registered his 1,700th career success at the course in 2002 – becoming the most prolific jumps jockey of all time. Given Uttoxeter’s continuing prominence on both the Summer and Winter jumping scene, it would be no surprise to see further significant moments in the future, at what is one of the Midlands’ very best tracks.