It is obviously all but impossible to talk about horse racing in Newcastle without talking about Newcastle Racecourse.
The venue for the city’s big meetings is located at Gosforth Park in the city, being owned and operated by Arena Racing Company.
Though it started life as a flat course, nowadays it hosts both flat racing and National Hunt events.
The biggest meeting that you could see there is the Northumberland Plate, which typically takes place in June and is run on the course over two miles and 56 yards, being open to three-year-olds only. There are other big races that we’ll cover on this page, but there is no question that the Northumberland Plate is the stand out event of the year for Newcastle Racecourse.
If you have spent any time at all in the presence of a Geordie, you will know that they love a good time. For this reason, a trip to the racecourse in Newcastle-upon-Tyne promises you about as fun an experience as you can have. The fact that the quality of the racing is also top-notch merely adds to the whole thing, which is why it’s such a popular venue to head to.
Going To The Racecourse
We will start by having a think about what you can expect to experience when you head to Newcastle Racecourse in order to watch a race meeting. Whilst it is about as far as you can get from the sort of racing experience that you might be likely to enjoy at a course such as Ascot, you are still attending the races. For that reason, there is a certain level of respect that you will be expected to show when attending events there. That doesn’t mean that it will be an unenjoyable or uptight experience, however, don’t worry.
In terms of how to dress, you’ll be expected to opt for smart casual if you’re in the hospitality areas and the Premier Enclosure. Shirts need to have a collar and sports shirts are not allowed. Of course, smart casual will mean different things to different people, so don’t overthink it too much. In essence, if you don’t think you’re wearing something appropriate then the likelihood is that you’re not. Suits and the like will be the go-to choice for most people, though tailored shorts are acceptable for months when the weather turns hot.
It is located inside High Gosforth Park, which perhaps tells you a little something about how horse racing is viewed in this sports-mad city. The people there will be expecting a good time, irrespective of which meeting it is that you attend. Newcastle is a working class city, in line with the likes of Liverpool and Glasgow, so it is not all that surprising that the people like to enjoy themselves when they’re spending hard earned money to attend an event. With that in mind, Newcastle Racecourse is set up to ensure that fun is had by all.
The Course Itself
Now that we know what to expect when we head to Newcastle Racecourse for a meeting, let’s have a think about the course itself. A new all-weather Tapeta surface was installed at the racecourse in 2016, so the flat racing has taken place on that ever since. The same isn’t true of the jump racing, of course. This is because all-weather surfaces are too hard for jumpers to land on, making it dangerous for that sort of event to take place there. For that reason, the course actually boasts two tracks: a Tapeta one and a turf one.
When it comes to the flat racing track, it is the only all-weather course in the country that has a straight mile offering. That allows for a thrilling finish to races, not least of all because the final furlongs are uphill. Stamina is one of the most important things that a horse can boast if it’s hoping to win a race on the flat at Newcastle. The fact that it is floodlit allows for racing in the evening, which can add to the experience and excitement. The left-handed track is a challenge in and of itself, before that uphill ending is even taken into account.
The jump racing course is, as you’d expect, a turf one. It is also left-handed, promising a good galloping track that is uphill from the final turn. The fences are generally regarded as being quite stiff at Newcastle Racecourse, promising a real test to the horses running. You will often see jockeys jostling for position to be close to the strand rail on the home straight, largely because it promises an advantage to those that can get there. Races as long as four miles can be run on the jump racing course at Newcastle, offering some top-quality events.
The Big Races
Ultimately, punters will want to know a little bit about what to expect if they head to Newcastle Racecourse for a meeting and will be keen to find out about how the course runs, but the main thing they’ll be interested in is the biggest races that they can expect to watch there. Given the fact that there are around 60 meetings that take place at the venue across both flat and National Hunt seasons, it is hardly a surprise that you’ll be able to see some great races if you head there at the right time. Here is a look at the most noteworthy ones:
There really is nowhere else to start but by looking at the Northumberland Plate. The flat racing handicap takes place over two miles and 56 furlongs and was first run in 1623. That was during a meeting at Killingworth, showing the extent to which Newcastle as a city has enjoyed horse racing for hundreds of years. Run on the all-weather Tapeta course, it is open to horses aged three and over. In 2019, the purse stood at £150,000, with the winner taking home a little over £92,000 of that. It is not the most expensive race in the country, therefore, but it also isn’t to be sniffed at.
The event was officially established at Town Moor in 1833, not moving to its current venue until 1882. It took place on a Wednesday and was a national holiday for the local mine workers, earning it the nickname of ‘the Pitmen’s Derby’. That stopped in 1949, with the event being switched to a Saturday three years later. Despite its relatively lack of money compared to some flat races, it is actually one of the richest two-mile handicap races in the world. It was enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years, whilst no horse has won it more than Underhand’s three victories.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle
A Grade 1 National Hunt event, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle was first run in 1969. The name of the race is a reference to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, the nickname of whom was the ‘Fighting Fifth’. Prior to the inaugural running of the race, the regiment was amalgamated with three more to become the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. It was run as a limited handicap event for a short time in the 1990s, but was promoted to Grade 1 in 2004 and is considered to be one of the first prestigious races of the jump racing season.
Run over two miles and 46 yards, the race offers nine hurdles that must be navigated. Open to horses aged four and over, it promises a weight of 11 stone and seven pounds, whilst fillies and mares are given a seven pound allowance. It is the first race in the Triple Crown of Hurdling, typically taking place in late November to early December each year. Between 1972 and 1979, it was dominated by the three wins of Comedy Errors and Birds Nest. If you know much about jump racing, you won’t be surprised to learn that Nicky Henderson is the most successful trainer, having trained seven winners.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle might be a slightly better-known race, but the Eider Chase is a more impressive one to watch. That is thanks to the 26 fences that need to be jumped during the four miles and 122 yards of the event, which is open to five-year-olds and over. The Class 2 race was first run in 1952 and is worth watching if you’re hoping for some clues about the Grand National, given that it is considered to be a trial for the Aintree race by many. As an example, Comply or Die won this before going on to win the National in 2008.
It is back to the all-weather flat track for our final two races, the first of which is the Burradon Stakes. Open to three-year-olds, it has the following weight information at play:
- Weight: 9 stone 2 pounds
- Fillies are given a 5 pound allowance
- Group race winners are given a 5 pound penalty
- Listed race winners are given a 3 pound penalty
The race tends to take place during the course’s Good Friday meeting, meaning that it us usually happening in either late March or early April. It has only been happening since 2017, when it was run as Conditions event and was named in honour of the nearby village. It has been a Listed race since 2018, which was also when it became part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series. That ceased to be the case in 2019, when it was replaced in that series by the Cardinal Stakes at Chelmsford City Racecourse.
A Group 3 event that is run over six furlongs, the Chipchase Stakes is for horses aged three and over. It tends to take place in late June or early July, having been established in 1994 and named after Chipchase Castle, which is located about 30 miles from the racecourse. It is one of just four non-turf run Group races in Great Britain, alongside the Winter Derby, the September Stakes and the Sirenia Stakes. It takes place on the same day as the Northumberland Plate and has the following weight information attached:
- 3-year-olds: 8 stone 10 pounds
- 4-year-olds and over: 9 stone 3 pounds
- Fillies and mares are given an allowance of 3 pounds
- Group 1 winners are given a penalty of 7 pounds
- Group 2 winners are given a penalty of 5 pounds
- Group 3 winners are given a penalty of 3 pounds
Though the name of Newcastle Racecourse might suggest that it is located in the centre of the city, the reality is that it is actually about 15 miles away. That means that a lot of people will choose to drive there, with the A1 and the A19 both typically boasting good signposts once you get within proximity of it. If you’re coming from further afield then you might want to fly to Newcastle International Airport, which is about six miles away and has plenty of taxis nearby. Similarly, you’ll need to get a taxi if you take a train to Newcastle Central Station.
If you’re the sort of person that prefers using public transport as much as possible but you don’t fancy getting the train, the 43 and 44 buses will both run from Haymarket Bus Station to right outside the racecourse. That being said, train is still the best option, not least because the Metro runs to Regent Central, from where there are regular free shuttle buses on the days that race meetings are taking place. In short, then, there are plenty of different ways of getting to Newcastle Racecourse, so you’d do well to pick the one that’s right for you.
A Brief History Of Newcastle Racecourse
As an area, the north-east of the country has had a relationship with horse racing since the early part of the 17th century. That was when races took place at Killingworth, though the first major race was the King’s Plate, which was open to five-year-olds and took place for the first time in 1753. The Northumberland Plate is what put the north-east properly on the map, though. It was inaugurated at Town Moor in 1833, setting Newcastle Racecourse on the path to legitimacy when it shifted to High Gosforth Park in 1882.
In the modern era, perhaps nothing has had an impact on Newcastle Racecourse quite like the arrival of Scottish businessman David Williamson in 2002. He took over as Managing Director, transforming the venue’s fortunes thanks to a boost in turnover from £2.5 million to £6.5 million. The Northumberland Plate alone brings in £30 million to the wider region, whilst Ladies Day, which he introduced, sees around 15,000 racegoers head to the course. He was head-hunted by Newcastle United Football Club, who appointed him as their Executive Director (Operations) in 2008.
If you were after something else that might have had as big an impact on Newcastle Racecourse, then perhaps it was the decision by the course’s owners, Arena Racing Company, to change the flat racing course to an all-weather one. That came in December 2013, when the Tapeta track began to be installed, opening for competition in May of 2016. Another clever decision from the owners was to keep the turf track, ensuring that both flat and jump racing could continue at Newcastle. That explains why it is one of the busiest racecourse in the United Kingdom.
What Else The Course Is Used For
As you might imagine, Newcastle Racecourse isn’t used for horse racing alone. The facilities are such that it can be used for everything from weddings to exhibitions, private parties to conferences. The location of the course in High Gosforth Park means that it shares the area with both Border Minstrel Pub and Parklands Golf Club, allowing for more than one activity to take place in the area. Depending on when it is that you’re likely to head to the venue, you could enjoy a fireworks display, a Christmas market and more.
It is all part of the plan to make racing in Newcastle about more than just the course and the events that take place on it. Whilst there are as many as 60 meetings that are run at Newcastle during the year, being able to get people to head there for reasons other than just watching the horses is a sure-fire way of ensuring that it is seen as a community-based venue. That is perhaps more important than ever in the wake of the fallout of Saudi Arabia buying Newcastle United Football Club for the purposes of sports-washing the country’s reputation on a global scale.