Yorkshire is a hotbed of many sports, not least horse racing. In total, there are nine racecourses in Yorkshire and in the eyes of racing fans who think small is beautiful, Wetherby is the best of the lot. The local area has a rich history of horse racing while the current staff are always on the lookout for ways to improve a day at Wetherby races for jockeys, trainers, owners and racing fans.
What the town of Wetherby lacks in size it makes up for in hospitality. Many of the best pubs in the town offer racegoers a comfortable bed for the night while the town’s location and transport links open up a wealth of accommodation options in the surrounding urban and rural areas
Staying in Wetherby
You don’t want to spend the night in the nearest accommodation to Wetherby Racecourse as that would be HMP Wetherby. Stay the right side of the law and you’ll have your pick of the hotels and guesthouses in the town though. You’ll have to be quick because options are limited and rooms are often booked up well in advance for the big race meetings.
Most of the places to stay in Wetherby itself are in pubs. The Swan and Talbot, Royal Oak and (slightly further out) the Castle Inn and Scotts Arms are all charming pubs with good food menus and nice, clean rooms. As far as hotels go, the Mercure Wetherby Hotel is in the heart of town while the slightly more budget-friendly Days Inn by Wyndham Hotel is closer to the racecourse and sits just off the A1(M).
Wetherby is surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside. Many visitors to the racecourse take advantage of this by planning their stay in one of the high quality countryside hotels and retreats just a very short journey away. Wood Hall Hotel & Spa is the standout option in the local area in nearby Linton. The four star hotel is set in an historic country house, has a spa and health club, and a very good restaurant. Some racegoers venture slightly further north to visit Goldsborough Hall, which is perfect both for a short stay around the races and for a longer stay to explore the local area.
Wighill Park, just to the east of Wetherby, is also a popular place to stay. In the summer months, the glamping park at Wighill provides very good accommodation even if it’s a bit out of left field, while Priory Cottages and Wighill Manor Lodges just next door are perfect for those who prefer their country living surrounded by four walls. The area also has some very popular caravan sites including Maustin Park and Haighfield Caravan Park.
Nearby Towns & Cities
Wetherby is officially within the City of Leeds metropolitan borough. As that would suggest, it is just a short journey by car or public transport to Leeds from Wetherby and many racegoers take full advantage by booking themselves a city centre stay. The centre of Leeds has options for all sorts of budgets and requirements. Holiday Inn Express, Premier Inn and Travelodge all have a presence in the city as do other big names such as Jurys Inn, Marriot Hotels and Ibis. There are also four star hotels such as The Chambers Park Place, Clayton Hotel and Malmaison Leeds.
Leeds is just one of the towns and cities near to Wetherby that racegoers will often stay in. York and Harrogate are similarly home to big name budget hotels but each have a host of unique guest houses and independent hotels to choose from.
About the Racecourse
Wetherby is a picturesque market town in West Yorkshire. It is set close to the border with North Yorkshire and therefore is surrounded by some stunning countryside but that does not mean that Wetherby is a remote outpost. It has been a stop off on the Great North Road for centuries and is within 12 miles of Leeds, York and Harrogate.
Thanks to the proximity of the Great North Road, or the A1, Wetherby is easily accessible by road. Whether arriving from the north or south, drivers will approach the course via the A1(M), exiting the road at Junction 46 for the B1224. The course is just minutes from the A1(M) and has ample parking on racedays for cars and coaches. Racegoers can also pay extra to park in Wetherby’s Centre of Course enclosure.
While driving to Wetherby is nice and easy, it is slightly more difficult for those arriving via public transport. The main reason for this is that there is no train station in Wetherby itself. The nearest stations of any size are in Leeds, York and Harrogate. While there are ample bus and taxi services from each of those large train stations, it requires extra planning and cost compared to other racecourses. Those who are either staying in Wetherby or have made the journey to the town can catch a dedicated shuttle bus from Wetherby Bus Station to the racecourse on racedays.
Some racehorse owners like to make an entrance when watching their horses run, flying in from afar. There is no helipad at Wetherby like there is at many other courses but Leeds Bradford Airport is relatively close, while the Yorkshire Gliding Club has been known to facilitate light aircraft.
The proximity of the A1 is great for racegoers driving to Wetherby but it has provided the track with its challenges over the years. Most notably, work to realign the A1 caused problems with the home straight of Wetherby’s chase course, forcing the course to move the fences to the inside, closer to the hurdles course. Fortunately, Wetherby have done a very good job of mitigating against any problems with the move and the fences retain their reputation for punishing lazy or inaccurate jumps.
For all that horses have to jump well to contend at Wetherby, it is otherwise a fair course. Galloping horses with a wide stride are generally reckoned to be best suited to steeplechases at Wetherby, but it is possible to win with any running style. The fairness of the course is helped by the fact that the ground drains very well so the going is rarely heavy. In addition, it’s largely flat, save for a gentle climb to the winning post, and the bends are not sharp.
Racing on the Flat is a relatively new addition to Wetherby. The course got approval to run on the level in 2015 with the Flat races taking place on the hurdles course. It takes some time to understand long term trends but the early signs are that Flat racing at Wetherby is as fair as over obstacles. Flat jockeys have certainly spoken positively about the track at this pleasant course and believe that horses who like to race up with the pace are best suited to it.
Wetherby is a relaxed racecourse and as part of their attempts to ensure that racegoers feel as comfortable as possible there is no formal dress code for any of the enclosures at the course. There is a request by the hosts that people in the Premier Enclosure wear smart casual clothing but nobody is going to be turned away for wearing the wrong clothes at Wetherby.
There are three types of general admission ticket for racegoers at Wetherby to choose from. Starting with the cheapest, the Course Enclosure costs less than £10 even for the biggest racedays when booked in advance and only a couple of pounds more on the day. These tickets give access to the Centre of Course Enclosure where racegoers are permitted to bring their own food and drink for the day.
The next level of ticket is Paddock Admission. Tickets provide access to the racecourse and to all of the facilities in the Course and Paddock Enclosures. The Paddock Enclosure is a covered grandstand with excellent views of the winning post and final fence. The amenities include bars and food outlets, while ticket holders can also access the Winner’s Enclosure, Parade Ring, Pre-Parade Ring and a host of betting stands.
The Premier Enclosure is the most expensive general admission ticket but is available for around £35 or less for most meetings at Wetherby when booked in advance. This comes with extra food and drink options and excellent views of the course via the Millennium West Stand. It’s possible to upgrade these tickets to the Premier Plus option which comes with exclusive early use of the 1891 Bar, a racecard, complimentary drink and a food voucher.
As with other racecourses, hospitality is an important part of the mix at Wetherby. This is housed in the Wetherby Millennium Stand with its panoramic views of the racecourse and surrounding area. The various options include private suites, the Platinum Package, and White Rose Bistro Package, each of which come with excellent food and drink options for an extra special day at the races.
Although Wetherby has been hosting Flat racing since 2015 it is still regarded as a jumps venue by racing fans. The three biggest meetings of the year at Wetherby are all National Hunt fixtures including one of the early season highlights, the Charlie Hall Meeting.
Charlie Hall Meeting
For lots of racing fans, particularly in the north of England, Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Meeting signals the start of the jumps season proper. The two-day meeting takes place either in late October or early November and features a card that includes a couple of Listed races and some good handicaps. Saturday is the man day though, featuring a pair of Grade 2 contests. The first is the West Yorkshire Hurdle run over 3 miles and the second is the feature race of the meeting and of the season at Wetherby, the prestigious Charlie Hall Chase.
Yorkshire Christmas Meeting
The Christmas period is a very important time for horse racing and Wetherby plays a big part for their local racing fans with the Yorkshire Christmas Meeting. The meeting takes place on the 26th and 27th of December. It includes some very good racing headlined by the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase and Castleford Chase as well as lots of activities to keep the whole family entertained.
The Towton Novices’ Chase is one of four Graded races that take place each year at Wetherby. It made an instant impact as the first winner, Mr Mulligan, went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following year. That feat may never be repeated but horses with high potential are always on show for the Towton Novices’ Chase, which is supported by a strong card of jumps racing during Towton Raceday.
Wetherby Racecourse was opened in 1891 but the history of horse racing in the town goes back further, all the way to the Vikings who had stables by the River Wharfe. The Romans are also recorded as racing their Arab horses by the river and racing took place later at Clifford Moor and Bramham Moor. Some years later, in the late 18th century, steeplechasing began in Wetherby. Steeplechasing gets its name because horses used to race between the steeples of different churches and in Wetherby’s case races were run between Kirk Deighton Church and Walton Church.
Organised horse racing took place on Scaur Bank for years before the move to the current site. It was very popular in the town but the committee that run Wetherby decided that they were being charged too much for the use of the land so they upped sticks onto ground rented from the Montague family of Ingmanthorpe Hall.
As soon as Wetherby Racecourse was set up in its new home the hard work of ensuring that it would go from strength to strength began. The main task at hand was the construction of the Bramham Grandstand which has changed a lot over the years but remains standing. The job of running an increasingly professional organisation was taken up by the Wetherby Steeplechase Committee. Set up in 1920, it oversaw enough growth for the course to purchase the land that it was renting.
Closure of the Local Train Station
There may no longer be a local train station in Wetherby but for a long time the course was served by Wetherby Racecourse station before it was closed in 1959. The racegoers who flocked to Wetherby via the train helped the course to afford the first terraces in the 1930s.
The growth of Wetherby was supported solely by jumps racing. Indeed, in 2014 it was the only racecourse in Yorkshire only to host National Hunt meetings. That all changed in 2015 when Wetherby was given approval to use the hurdles course to host Flat racing. The first Flat meeting was held in April 2015.