Located in the picturesque Gosforth Park to the north of the city, Newcastle’s dual-purpose course is the premier site for racing in the North East of England.
It has attracted enthusiastic crowds through the doors ever since opening for business all the way back in 1882 – making the track 10 years older than the city’s continuously beleaguered football team!
Home of the historic “Pitmen’s Derby” that is the Northumberland Plate on the flat, and the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle over jumps, this mixed turf and all-weather track regularly attracts the best of the northern contenders, with the big southern yards also often heading to Tyneside for the track’s biggest events.
For the first 134 years of its existence, Newcastle racecourse had been an all-turf venue. However, that all changed in 2016 when the flat turf track was replaced with an all-weather surface, leaving the jumps turf course in place to stage the venue’s National Hunt fixtures.
The National Hunt track lies inside the round section of the all-weather course, and so the two tracks share many of the same features – aside from the racing surface itself of course. Both layouts are very close to 1m6f in circumference, oval in shape and feature long gradual bends that make for a relatively easy and very fair test.
Both the flat and National Hunt courses are also suited to strong gallopers, with the sweeping bends not placing undue demands on the balance of the runners. This galloping nature, combined with the fact that the closing stages on both tracks features an uphill finish, means that an ability to strongly stay the trip is one of the key factors for success here.
Ben Curtis has been one of the real emerging talents amongst the jockeys in recent years, and is a rider who seems to be a particularly good judge of pace and tactics on Newcastle’s all-weather track. To date, Curtis had achieved a strike-rate of almost 20% across nearly 500 rides at the venue, handing supporters a handy level stakes profit of more than £35.
John Gosden doesn’t send as many runners to Newcastle as some other trainers, but is a man to follow when he does venture to the North East. Again, to date, Gosden boasts an incredibly impressive strike-rate of almost 40% across more than 250 runners on Tyneside.
Nicky Richards has been the man to follow over jumps here. Based fairly nearby in Cumbria, Richards has registered a 20% strike-rate at the track across more than 350 runners – recording a level stakes profit of nearly £30.
Newcastle All-Weather Flat Course
When making the decision to convert to an all-weather track, the management at Newcastle opted for a Tapeta surface. A combination of sand, fibre, rubber and wax, this synthetic surface is also used at Wolverhampton, meaning that form often translates well between the two venues. A horse who has previously run well at Wolverhampton is certainly more likely to repeat that level of performance at Newcastle than on the slow Fibresand surface of Southwell for example.
In addition to the left-handed round section of the course, which contains the 1m2f, 1m4f and 2m starts, Newcastle’s all-weather track also features a 1m straight course which runs into the straight of the round course. Floodlit throughout, and staging events over 1m, 7f, 6f and 5f, it is the longest all-weather straight track in the country.
Generally a solid galloping track, the finish here isn’t quite so stiff as on the jumps course, but still requires the runners to climb uphill for the final 1½f, and it’s certainly not unusual to see those towards the front fade close to home.
Being drawn low and towards the rail is a definite advantage for those races which take in large sections of the round course i.e. those at beyond a mile. It can be very difficult to overtake on the long sweeping bends, and runners stuck out wide often forfeit a large amount of ground, especially in the longest events such as the track’s signature Northumberland Plate.
This bias towards the low drawn runners is however reversed on the straight course, where the high to middle drawn numbers are widely thought to hold a slight advantage. This bias against the low drawn runners seems strongest over 5f and diminishes as the race distance increases.
Newcastle Jumps Course
Newcastle’s jumps course is generally considered to provide a tough test over all distances. Suited to strong gallopers, the track is relatively flat throughout, but features a very demanding uphill finish for the final 4f. The chase course features 10 stiff fences, including two open ditches, per circuit, whist the hurdle track contains seven standard hurdles.
This stiff finish is often exacerbated by the fact the track can be relatively slow to drain, which regularly leads to soft or heavy ground during the winter months. This part of the world sees a lot of cold, wet weather and the marathon Eider Chase in particular often takes place in fairly treacherous conditions.
The jockeys are of course well aware of the demands of the track, and as a result many races at Newcastle do tend to be run at a steady pace, as the riders bid to conserve enough energy for that demanding finish. Even so though, this is a place where stamina is often vital.
Overall, the jumps track is very fair, but if there is any bias in evidence, it may well lie against the stands rail in the home straight. That strip of ground can often ride quicker than the centre and far side, and many experienced riders are keen to tack across to make their challenge.