The UK boasts a number of outstanding racecourses, but there are few – if any – to match the West Midlands track of Warwick in terms of sheer longevity.
Having now been laying on racing events for over 300 years, this course, located in the heart of the town centre from which it takes its name, is one of the oldest racing venues on the planet. Within hailing distance of the walls of the imposing Warwick Castle, the course has a historical setting to match that rich heritage and remains a hugely popular track with racegoers from far and wide.
Given the popularity of Warwick itself with tourists, and the town’s proximity to several urban hotspots and the beautiful English countryside, many racegoers may wish to extend their visit with an overnight stay in the area. Those wishing to do so shouldn’t have too much difficulty in sourcing accommodation, with a number of excellent hotels available – both close to the course, and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
With the course being located in the heart of the town centre, the most obvious choice for racegoers is to stay within Warwick itself. And proximity to the course aside, there are many good reasons to do so. The county town of Warwickshire boasts a wealth of attractions, including the impressive Warwick Castle (which is almost a thousand years old), a medieval hospital, a selection of fine museums, and the scenic St Nicholas Park. The town is also home to a range of quality pubs and bars for those fancying a post-race tipple, with the 17th Century Tilted Wig, modern and trendy Dough & Brew, and the Rose & Crown all being well worth a look.
Whilst not large by county town standards, Warwick does possess a solid variety of accommodation options. Holiday Inn, ibis and Best Western are amongst the big chains represented, whilst the Globe and the Old Coffee Tavern offer a slightly more luxurious experience. Or to keep things in the spirit of the medieval heart of the town, how about the tents and chalets of Warwick Castle Knight’s Village?
Despite Warwick’s many delights, it may be a little on the small side for those seeking the big city experience to pair with their racing trip. For racing fans desiring something a little livelier, the most obvious port of call is the city of Birmingham, which lies only around 45 miles to the north of the track and enjoys strong rail links with Warwick.
Home to a range of notable art galleries and museums – including one dedicated exclusively to chocolate – the city centre contains more than enough pubs and bars to satisfy the thirsty, with the Old Joint, the Wellington, and the Trocadero all well worth a look. Unsurprisingly, as England’s second city, accommodation options are in plentiful supply. Big brands including Holiday Inn, ibis, Best Western and Marriott are all represented, whilst No. 8 Waterloo Street and One Five Six are amongst the more opulent offerings.
The Call of the Cotswolds
Of course, the hustle and bustle of the city isn’t for everyone. For those who covet a more tranquil base of operations, the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty lies only around a forty-minute drive to the south of the course. Home to rolling hills, thatched medieval villages and a diverse array of plant and animal life, it’s the perfect base to get away from it all.
As a hugely popular tourist spot, hotels and B&B’s area scattered all around the region but – by virtue of lying towards the northern edge of the Cotswolds – Winton House, Three Ways House Hotel and the Howard Arms are amongst the most conveniently located for Warwick racegoers.
About the Racecourse
A dual-purpose course for the majority of its long lifetime, these days Warwick operates solely as a jumps racing venue. The track lays on a total of 18 meetings over the course of its season which runs from September through to May, with the major highlights coming at the four big Saturday fixtures.
Residing on Hampton Road, just off the A429, the track’s town centre location makes it relatively easy to reach by road from all directions; the M42, M40 and A46 approaching from the north, the M40 and A46 from the south, A45 and A425 from the east, and M42, M40 and A422 from the west. The course is well signposted from all directions, but for satnav users, the postcode to enter is CV34 6HN. Upon arrival at the course, motorists will find ample free parking available.
For those arriving by rail, Warwick contains two train stations: Central Warwick Station and Warwick Parkway, with the former being the better option for racegoers. Lying on the Chiltern Line, Central Warwick Station is well connected to most major cities and welcomes regular services from both Birmingham Snow Hill and London Marleybone. At only around a mile away, the course is an easy walk from the station, or alternatively a taxi will have you trackside in around five minutes.
An alternative to the train is provided by Stagecoach bus company which runs services to Warwick town centre from the nearby Coventry, Stratford upon Avon and Leamington Spa.
Warwick’s 1m5f left-handed track is in the shape of an asymmetrical quadrilateral featuring four turns of varying sharpness, the tightest of which leads into the home straight. Three of the four straight sections are relatively short, with the extensive six-furlong backstretch being the exception. Upon passing the winning post, the field is initially faced with steeply climbing ground, which then begins to descend more gradually around the turn into the back straight. In addition to the main circuit, the track also features a short chute which runs into the home straight, containing the starting point for events over two miles and 3m5f.
Utilising the outer portion of the track, the chase course is not as sharp as the inner hurdles layout and features a total of 10 fences per circuit. Whilst the fences themselves aren’t unduly testing, this is still considered to be a tricky jumping track, largely due to the backstretch which features no fewer than five fences, all of which come up relatively quickly after one another. The final two obstacles lie in the two furlong home straight, with a run-in of around a furlong after the last. Runners tackling the smaller obstacles are faced with five flights of hurdles per circuit, the final two of which again come in the home straight prior to a short run-in.
Generally being a speed-favouring track, front runners and prominent racers tend to go well around here, whilst long-striding galloping sorts can struggle to maintain a rhythm around the sharp turns. Undoubtedly a tough track for novice chasers, this can be a good course for runners making the switch from the flat to hurdles.
Given the speed favouring nature of the course, all races tend to be run at a pretty strong pace which brings stamina firmly into place over the longer distances. A statement which is all the truer on soft or heavy going – and thanks to the slow draining clay subsoil, it can become very soft, very quickly around here.
There is no specific dress code in place at Warwick, with the main advice being to dress comfortably whilst remembering to take account of the weather. That said, the guidelines do state a preference against sports or denim shorts, whilst most racegoers opt for smarter attire in the hospitality areas.
Fancy dress will be permitted in the Grandstand and Paddock and Central Course enclosures, so long as it is not deemed to be offensive in nature. If in any doubt as to the suitability of your proposed costume, the best advice is to contact the track in advance.
There are two main enclosures available at Warwick: The Main Grandstand, and the Course Enclosure. Priced at £20 for a bank holiday or weekend fixture, and £15 for a midweek meeting, Main Grandstand admission affords access to the Parade Ring, the main betting ring, covered elevated viewing of the home straight, and a variety of food and drink options including Westgate Bar and Food Hall, Scudamore Bar, and the sporting lodge-themed “Dukes”.
Only open for the larger meetings and bank holiday fixtures, the Course Enclosure is priced at around £10 per ticket and contains its own tiered grandstand and selection of food and drink outlets, with live music entertainment throughout the day at a number of meetings including the big New Year party fixture.
Under 18s go free with a paying adult at all meetings, concessions are available for OAPs and students, and group bookings of 10 or more will qualify for a discount when purchasing tickets in advance.
In addition to the standard ticketing options, the track also offers a Premier Hospitality Package for those looking to really make a day of it. Beginning at £110 per person, this deal includes admission, a three-course a la carte meal, afternoon tea, tea and coffee, and a private balcony overlooking the winning line. Private boxes are also available and able to cater for parties of between 15 and 100, with the best advice being to contact the track in advance in order to discuss your specific requirements.
Generally, an above-average track in terms of the quality of the action on offer, the seasonal highlights at Warwick are not only popular with local racing fans but also attract the focus of the wider National Hunt world. If you are planning a trip to Warwick on one of their bigger race days, the following three fixtures should be at the top of your list.
Classic Chase Day
Of the track’s total of three Graded class contests, two take place at this January Saturday afternoon meeting. The course’s major handicap of the season is the Classic Chase which takes centre stage here. One For Arthur features on an impressive roll of honour for this 3m5f contest, coming home in front in 2017 prior to his success in the Aintree Grand National. With the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle – won by horses of the calibre of The New One and Inglis Drever in the past – heading up a quality undercard, this is the day to visit the course for fans of high-class jumping action.
Kingmaker Chase Day
Hot on the heels of Classic Chase Day comes the second of the track’s late winter highlights. Taking place in February each year this seven-race card is spearheaded by a race named in honour of the 16th Earl of Warwick, who earned the title of Kingmaker during the War of the Roses. A quality Grade 2 event held over the two-mile trip, this is another race to present patrons with a sighting of a star performer, with Flagship Uberalles. Voy Por Ustedes, Long Run and Finian’s Rainbow all taking the prize en route to Grade 1 success. Also benefitting from a prime-time Saturday slot, this fixture never fails to draw in the crowds.
Together with Kids Carnival Day, a “Proudly Warwick” fixture and Wigley Property Race Day, this Saturday evening fixture makes up the May Racing Carnival which annually brings the curtain down on another season. A competitive seven-race card provides plenty to keep punters entertained, whilst off the track there is live music after racing, and spectacular prizes on offer in the Style Awards – the 2022 winner receiving a Villa for six people for one week in Mercia. Well worth making the effort to get dressed up!
Boasting one of the longest histories of any British racecourse, the first equine events in the shadows of the castle walls took place way back in 1696. Initially staged in order to aid the rebuilding project following the Great Fire of Warwick, the races proved so popular that plans were soon underway to build a permanent track at the site.
It was then in 1707 that the course opened at the current site on an area of common land known as St Mary’s Lands. A distinctly low-key affair in the early days, the popularity of the track built steadily over time, with the first Grandstand being built in 1808 using funds raised from the sale of ticket subscriptions.
First Hurdle Race at a Meeting
The 1800s also saw the track enter the history books on a couple of occasions – becoming the first course to include a hurdle race at a meeting in 1831 and the first to stage a chase contest in 1845. Cheltenham may be known as the home of the National Hunt game, but it was really at Warwick that the jumping arm of the sport first came to life. Surviving a betting scandal during the 1870s, allegedly instigated by the dodgy-sounding “sharpers and roughs” swarming the course, the track was taken over by the Warwick Race Club Syndicate in 1886.
Purchased by the Jockey Club
Closed during WWI, and then again for the duration of WWII when repurposed as a prisoner of war camp, the next significant moment came in 1967 when the track was purchased by the Jockey Club – who continue to run the course to this day. 1967 incidentally also marked the appearance of the most famous horse to grace the Warwick turf, as three-time Grand National hero Red Rum won a flat contest at the course.
2000: New Grandstand
Benefitting from only minor upgrades in the latter half of the 20th Century, the year 2000 saw the opening of a new grandstand, built at a cost of £3 million, and maintaining many features of the 1808 original. The development of the track continued with a £2m modernisation project between 2007 and 2008 seeing the building of a new weighing room, two new restaurants and a conference facility, bringing the track firmly into the modern era.
2014: Closed for Flat Racing
A significant bump in the road was however to follow in 2014 when the decision was taken to close the flat course at the track due to safety concerns, with the final event on the level taking place on 26th August of that year. With the flat racing gone, Warwick set itself the goal of becoming one of the leading small jumps tracks in the country, and if the facilities, race day experience, and attendances are anything to go by, this excellent course is well on its way to hitting that target.