Situated in the heart of Shakespeare country, just outside the medieval Warwickshire town of the same name, lies a fine example of the countryside racing venue. Offering a view of the bard’s resting place at Holy Trinity, and surrounded by green meadowland, this small, picturesque course has now been attracting racegoers for over two centuries.
The history of racing in this area of the West Midlands actually dates back over 300 years, with tales of events taking place at nearby Shottery Meadow from as early as 1718. The first official meetings at the current location then followed in 1755, although this initial run was relatively short-lived, with complaints from local farms seeing racing suspended between 1776 and 1836. By 1849 though, a consistent fixture list had been established, and the action at the track has gone largely uninterrupted ever since.
Independently operated by the Stratford Racing Company, the track benefitted from the building of a new Grandstand in 1955, whilst in 1969 the purchase of adjoining farmland enabled the course itself to be expanded.
Stratford Jumps Course
Stratford’s track is close to triangular in configuration with a circumference of a shade over 1m2f. Predominantly flat, the only slight undulations are to be found in the back straight where the fences are sited on small banks. A notably sharp track, the turns out of the home straight and into the backstretch are both close to ninety degrees, with the bend back around into the home straight being the gentlest of the three.
Those tackling the chase circuit are faced with a total of eight obstacles per circuit; six plain, one open ditch and a water jump just before the winning post which is omitted on the final circuit. Whilst the fences themselves aren’t particularly imposing, the track does see a higher than average number of fallers and unseats, most likely due to the fact that the majority of events around here are run at a fierce gallop.
Hurdles contests take place on the inner portion of the track and are therefore that bit sharper than those on the outer chase course. Runners competing over the smaller obstacles must negotiate five flights per circuit, with just the one in the home straight preceding a run-in of close to 200 yards.
Type of Runner Favoured
With its relatively short straight sections, tight turns, and a run-in following the final obstacle of under a furlong, Stratford is very much a speed-favouring track. As such, when making your selections it pays to seek out front runners or prominent racers with an ability to jump quickly and accurately. With that long bend into the relatively short home straight, the leaders tend not to come back to the field around here, often leaving hold-up performers with an insurmountable task. Given the emphasis on pace, this can be a good track for ex-flat performers making the switch to the jumping game.
Overall Stratford is a tricky track to ride, due to the frenetic pace and importance of maintaining balance and pace around those turning sections. And over the past few seasons, not too many riders have enjoyed a particularly productive time of things – Brian Hughes, with a strike rate of 29% and over £30 profit to £1 level stakes, being the only jockey to edge supporters into the black. That’s still better than the trainers have managed over this period though, with no handler boasting a positive level stakes return.
In contrast to that scarcity of profitable trainer and jockey trends, things have been fairly straightforward for supporters of the market leader. Backing the favourite in every handicap contest over recent seasons would have achieved a strike rate of 37% and profit to £1 level stakes of around £9.50, with the non-handicap hurdle events (56% strike rate, over £4 level stakes profit) being the other race category to note.
Racing at Stratford
A National Hunt-only venue, Stratford stages around 19 fixtures per season, all of which take place between the months of March and November – covering the whole of the summer jumps season as well as the end and beginning of the National Hunt season proper.
Stratford offers decent prize money for a smaller track, and as such regularly attracts some of the bigger name owner and trainers in the game. The major highlight of the year comes in the shape of the Foxhunters Champion Hunters’ Chase in May, which together with the major events at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals makes up the Triple Crown of the Foxhunter Chase season.