Chester is widely accepted to be the oldest racecourse still in operation, originally opened in 1539, and even has recognition from Guinness to that effect. Protected by the city walls and surrounded by the River Dee, the racecourse itself attracts good support all year round as it is a picturesque and much-loved course and Chester is an affluent area.
The main occasion of the year is the May meeting which hosts key Derby trials like the Dee Stakes, the Huxley Stakes and the Chester Vase, as well as the Chester Cup run over 2 ¼ miles on the opening day of the meeting. That said, although those are the key contests, racing at Chester is always competitive and field sizes strong.
Chester racecourse is a short stroll through the historic town centre from the railway station where you can take in the beauty of this idyllic location. It also has easy access via road however you will miss so much beauty taking this option. The racecourse position also appeals as it is close to the nearby hotels, bars and restaurants giving racegoers much to enjoy after the racing has finished.
Chester Flat Course
Chester is a circular left-handed course which is just over a mile round and is more or less flat throughout. The bends here and the track in general is sharp, therefore horses that have a long stride seem to not handle this course as you are almost always on the turn. The tight characteristics of this racecourse also mean it is easy for a horse to get into trouble. Getting into trouble may be easy, but getting out of it here is extremely difficult as generally in most races there is no time to recover your position.
The draw bias at Chester is well-known and arguably the biggest in racing, especially in the large fields that are far from uncommon here. Due to the tight turns and relatively little time spent running straight, a low draw is key. In a race over five furlongs, runners are immediately into a turn and the straight is only 239 yards, therefore enormously favouring prominent racers who, if they have a stalls position of 1,2 or 3, simply must go close to winning.
The middle distance races with a large field also give an advantage to those with a single figure draw. Those coming into the straight from a wide berth must forfeit several lengths to those prominent on the fence and although not impossible, it is certainly very difficult to claw things back from out wide.
About the Course
Chester is the smallest racecourse in the country and used solely for flat racing and it usually has 15 scheduled meetings a year from May through to September. Of these fixtures, eight take place on a Saturday and another two on Friday evening meaning attendances are high.
Chester racecourse is also known as “The Roodee”, meaning, “The Island of the Cross” and many racegoers still refer to the course as The Roodee. In 2012 Chester became the first course not to offer conventional Tote betting. Instead it operates its own similar version called Chester Bet.
The weather in Chester is variable and changes from month to month, like lots of places in England, and the condition of the ground can change dramatically from meeting to meeting. The course has poor drainage and tends to hold water and given how wet the North West tends to be, ground conditions even in the height of summer do not get too firm. As the course holds moisture and is also on the banks of a river, the general underfoot conditions here are perfect most of the time and hard ground is never really an issue. That said, when the rain does fall, the ground can go on the soft side much quicker than some other places.
Statistics are a big part of horse racing and Chester has plenty of them. Top trainer Aidan O’Brien often uses the course to prepare his Epsom Derby contenders. In 2013 Ruler of The World took the Chester Vase before winning the Epsom Derby and in 2017 Wings of Eagles was beaten in the race before claiming victory in the Epsom Classic.
Trainer Tom Dascombe has a healthy strike rate at his local track and Richard Fahey also sends more horses here than most, with a lot of them being owned by a Chester regular, Dr Marwan Koukash. The biggest statistic of them all though concerns jockey Franny Norton. Born in nearby Liverpool, at the time of writing Norton has had more rides here than any other jockey over the last five seasons and boasts a healthy strike rate, confirming the belief that he rides the track as well as anybody.