Lying on a large island between the River Thames and the Clewer Mill Stream backwater, Windsor is one of the UK’s more distinctive racecourses. Stunning as that island setting is, set amidst 165 acres of beautiful Berkshire countryside, the most immediately distinguishing feature of Windsor racecourse is the shape of the circuit – as together with the National Hunt venue of Fontwell Park, Windsor is one of only two figure-of-eight tracks in the country. Smaller and more relaxed than the nearby track at Ascot, it remains a hugely popular course with racegoers from far and wide.
Already a hugely popular tourist destination in its own right and a relative stone’s throw from the bright lights of London, racegoers making the trip to Windsor likely won’t need too much encouragement in order to extend their visit with an overnight stay in the area. Happily, for those looking to linger a little longer, numerous accommodation options are available – both close to the course and a little further afield.
Closest to the Course
The most obvious place to stay is within the historic market town of Windsor itself, particularly as the track is located only a short walk from the heart of the town centre. The spectacular Windsor Castle is the town’s main selling point, but there is plenty more on offer besides, including the world’s largest Legoland Park which should keep kids (young and old) entertained. For those seeking a little liquid refreshment following a day at the races, the town is home to a thriving pub scene, with the old-school Windsor Trooper, the cosy the Two Brewers, and the riverfront-set Boatman all well worth a look.
Well frequented by visitors from all around the world, Windsor is home to a wide variety of hotels. Hilton, Crowne Plaza, Marriott and Novotel are amongst the major chains represented, with the Old Farmhouse and the Royal Adelaide just two of the more luxurious options available.
The London Experience
Of course, Windsor isn’t the only major tourist destination in this part of the UK. Lying only around 25 miles to the east of the course is the UK’s capital city of London. Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the British Museum, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey… the list of attractions goes on in England’s most visited city, whilst procuring a post-race pint won’t prove to be an issue, with the capital boasting as diverse a range of pubs and bars as you could imagine.
Hotel options meanwhile run into the thousands; from budget offerings, such as the George Hotel and London Star Hotel, to all of the major chains, and on to the luxurious – and expensive – Dorchester and Four Seasons. Whatever your tastes and budget, you should find something to fit the bill.
Chill in the Chilterns
Appealing options though they may be, the historical charm of Windsor and buzz of London might not be for everyone. Some racegoers may desire something a little more tranquil to pair with their racing trip. For those seeking a little serenity, the Chiltern Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the obvious port of call.
At only around 23 miles to the north of the course, this beautiful region is easily reached by road and provides more than enough wonderful scenery and wildlife to satisfy those nature-loving racing fans. Hotels and B&Bs are peppered throughout the area but, by virtue of lying towards the southern edge of the hills, the Olde Bell, Macdonald Compleat Angler and Danesfield House Hotel & Spa are amongst the most conveniently located for racegoers.
About the Racecourse
A dual-purpose track in the past, these days Windsor sticks solely to the flat racing arm of the sport – staging a total of 26 meetings, all of which fall between late April and October. There are four weekend fixtures included amongst that number, but it is the regular stream of evening fixtures for which the track is best known – 15 of which take place on Mondays.
Located only around a mile and a half from the town centre, the course is relatively easy to reach by road; the A25, M4 and A355 approaching from the north, the M25 and A308 from the south, the M20, M26, M25 and A38 from the east, and the M4 from the west. The track, which lies on the A308 road between Windsor and Maidenhead is well signposted, but for satnav users, the postcode to enter is SL4 5JJ. Upon arrival at the course, motorists will find both paid and free parking options available.
For those arriving by rail, the closest stations to the course are Windsor and Eton Central, Windsor and Eton Riverside, and Slough – the first two of which are around a 20-minute walk or a five to 10-minute taxi ride from the track, with Slough a little further out. All stations are well served by London Paddington and Waterloo, giving the town strong rail links with most areas of the country.
Given its island location, Windsor also offers an interesting alternative to driving or walking for the final leg of the journey. Why not take advantage of the river taxi service which departs from Barry Avenue Promenade in the town centre? Taking only 10 minutes to reach the course, and with a full bar facility on board, this is the transport of choice for those looking to arrive in style.
1m4½f in circumference, the circuit at Windsor follows a figure-of-eight layout and, barring a dip near the end of the five-furlong home straight, is completely flat throughout. In addition to the main “round” course, the track also features a short spur leading into the home straight, containing the starting point for six-furlong sprint contests. Other than a slight kink around three furlongs from home, this sprint course runs dead straight to the line.
Given the unusual layout, the track at Windsor features both right and left-handed turns. However, due to the race starting positions, it is only events over the maximum 1m4f trip which actually require the runners to turn in both directions, with all other distances featuring right-handed bends only. Whilst all of the bends lean towards the tighter side, it is the bottom turn which regularly proves to be the trickiest. Earning the nickname “carnage corner”, major traffic problems can ensue should the leaders slow up the pace headed into this bend.
Whilst the turning sections of the track favour nippy, agile sorts, the extensive home straight gives the long-striding gallopers plenty of time to build up a head of steam. When taken in combination, this creates a track which doesn’t show any notable bias towards one type of runner over another.
One thing to be aware of is that on testing ground, the field will tend to tack across to the far rail in the straight, handing the advantage to those drawn low in sprint contests. On good or better going, however, high is the place to be in five- or six-furlong contests. Over a mile, a low draw is beneficial due to the fact that the first bend comes up very soon after the start.
The standard of attire required at Windsor depends upon which of the two main enclosures you are attending. There is no formal dress code in place in the more relaxed Grandstand Enclosure. Fancy dress is permitted in this area but may be refused if deemed unsuitable. The best advice here is to contact the track in advance to discuss your proposed outfit if any doubt.
Things are, however, a little stricter in the Jubilee Club Enclosure, with smart dress being the order of the day. Smart jeans, with no rips, tears or fraying will be permitted, as will tailored shorts. However, t-shirts, sportswear, cargo style shorts and trainers are all prohibited, whilst gentleman are required to wear a collared shirt. Ladies are advised to dress as if for a smart occasion, and whilst sandals are permitted, flip flops should be avoided.
There are two main enclosures available at Windsor: The Grandstand Enclosure, and the Jubilee Club Enclosure. Priced at £17 in advance for the vast majority of meetings, a Grandstand Enclosure ticket affords a great view of the track, parade ring, and winners enclosure, and access to all of the amenities contained within the Grandstand and Silver Ring areas, including the Gastro@Royal Windsor Steakhouse, Jamstick Bar and Silver Ring Café.
The Jubilee Club enclosure meanwhile is priced at £25 in advance and enjoys a prime position next to the winning post. A ticket for this section of the course grants access to all public areas, including those within the Grandstand Enclosure. Food and drink outlets exclusive to the Club Enclosure include Casa Bottega Al Fresco Restaurant and the popular Champagne Bar.
Tickets purchased in advance will generally be around £3 cheaper than those bought on the day, whilst significant group discounts are also regularly available. All under 18s go free with a paying adult in both enclosures, with students receiving a 30% discount when purchasing on the day.
In addition to the standard ticketing options, the track also offers a range of bundle deals, including a Chip Shop or Pizza Bundle priced at £32 which includes grandstand admission, fish and chips/pizza and a drink. Three course meal options are available in the 1866 restaurant, with prices beginning at £110. And at the top end of the hospitality scale are the tracks selection of private box experiences. The prices for these vary according to the menu and bar facilities required, with the best advice being to contact the track in advance in order to discuss your requirements.
With a total of five contests rated at Listed level or above, the average standard of the fare on offer at Windsor is certainly a notch above average. The track is also to be commended on the amount of effort it puts into its themed race days, helping to ensure that there is never really a bad time to call in to the Berkshire venue. As with all tracks though, there are still those meetings that stand out from the crowd.
Winter Hill Stakes Day
Of the five contests at Listed level or above to be held at the track, two take place at this late August fixture. Traditionally taking place on a punter friendly Saturday evening at the height of summer, this meeting is invariably extremely well attended. The Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes is the headline act, as a field of quality middle-distance performers locks horns over the 1m2f trip, with the Listed August Stakes heading up a six-race undercard. Regularly bathed in sunshine, the party atmosphere in the stands accentuates the action on the track at Windsor’s standout meeting.
The track’s signature Ladies Evening takes place on a Monday evening in late June each year, and in common with Ladies Days up and down the country has a whole host of additional entertainment to complement the racing action. Have your photo taken at the tracks Flower Wall in order to enter the “Style Awards” and be in with a shot of the £500 cash prize, and don’t forget to hang around after the last to take in the live music from a big-name act. Throw in a competitive seven-race card of action on the track, and it is no surprise that this is one of the most popular days of the season at the track.
Monday Evening Series
Ladies Day may be the highlight of Windsor’s extensive Monday evening series of fixtures, but there are a further 14 such meetings to choose from – the vast majority of which have a specific theme to spice up the atmosphere in the packed stands, from Cocktails & Jazz, Vegas Night, 90’s Revival and a whole lot more besides. With so much on offer, it’s no surprise that this stream of summertime evening fixtures has become a real staple of the Berkshire sporting scene.
One of the UK’s more historic racing towns, early reports list events as having taken place in the area during the reign of King Henry VIII (1509-1547), and then in a more organised form in 1682 when King Charles II was on the throne. The early 1700s saw the town play host to the prestigious Egham Meeting, something of a precursor to the modern Royal Ascot Festival. Upon the advent of Royal Ascot itself in 1807, Windsor began to fade a little in prominence as a racing town, but did serve as a base for many runners attending the Royal meeting.
1866: First Meeting
The modern history of the course then truly began in 1866 with the first-ever meeting to be held at the current Ray’s Meadow site. Mixing flat with the increasingly popular steeplechasing in those days, the track played host both to professional meetings and those organised by the military. Unlike the majority of the tracks in the UK, Windsor did manage to race on during both World Wars – with a “doodlebug” bomb actually landing on the track during a meeting in WWII, although thankfully there were no casualties.
The interwar year of 1926 saw the track’s bookmakers react angrily to a 2.5% betting tax imposed by Winston Churchill, with their strike action believed to have contributed to the law ultimately being repealed by the Labour government. Horse owner Churchill himself would have a happier reason to recall the racing activities at Windsor in 1949, when his star performer Colonist II romped to victory at the track. The global conflict meanwhile did nothing to deter Sir Gordon Richards who, in 1943, recorded his 2,749th career winner at the course, surpassing the previous record held by Fred Archer.
The Queen Mother: A Regular Visitor
1964 marked the first Monday evening meeting at the track, a fixture which immediately grabbed the attention of local racing fans – including the Queen Mother who was a regular attendee when staying at Windsor Castle. Increasing in popularity over the years, the quality of the facilities and the action on the track steadily improved, with the Winter Hill Stakes being run for the first time in 1986, just one year before the business magnate David Thompson purchased a majority stake in the course – a stake he held until the track was taken over by current owners, the Arena Racing Company in 1999.
1998: National Hunt Meeting Held
1998 marked a significant moment in the history of the course as the final scheduled National Hunt meeting was held – although Windsor did later step in to stage relocated meetings during the refurbishment works at Ascot in 2004 and 2005.
Switches to Flat Racing Only
Citing protection of the ground as the main reasoning, these days Windsor sticks exclusively to the flat game. That decision certainly seems to be paying off with the additions of the Listed class Royal Windsor Stakes and Leisure Stakes in 2000, followed by the Midsummer and August Stakes in 2004, seeing a further uplift in the quality of the action at what is undoubtedly a quality track.