The racecourses you must visit when we're free to travel again
The days of travelling to even local racecourses feel very distant in this time of lockdown, but eventually the restrictions will loosen and we'll be able to go racing around the world again. When that happens, here are nine tracks in Britain, Ireland and around the world that our writers think you should put on your must-visit list.
Newton Abbot: summer jumping in the countryside
This independent little racecourse is nestled in a valley close to Newton Abbot, a picturesque, historic market town in South Devon.
The track has suffered its fair share of setbacks in the last two seasons and has been forced to cancel a number of fixtures, first due to a spell of bad weather and recently due to the cessation of racing.
When fighting fit it punches well above its weight with a fantastic summer jumps programme and plenty of local food and drink to keep racegoers suitably nourished as they bask in the sun.
The track has a genuine community feel and offers an excellent view of the action, as well as of the train from London in the distance.
That journey alone is worth the trip as the track closely hugs the coastline before diverting inland along the stunning River Teign.
Saint-Malo: a coastal idyll in Brittany
I love going racing in France – in fact, I love visiting France full stop – and have been fortunate enough to experience a diverse handful of the country's tracks in recent years, including its showcase racecourses at Chantilly and Longchamp.
However, my introduction to French racing came at humble Saint-Malo, where I was sent (largely for comedy value) several years ago on a working quest to find the next French-bred jumping star.
Not knowing what to expect, I was utterly charmed by this tiny provincial track, where the sun shone, a sea breeze blew, the crêperie did a roaring trade and the only thing slower than my horses was the pace of life.
I never did find a star-in-waiting, but idling away an afternoon in such idyllic surroundings was joyful, while an evening spent strolling between the restaurants and bars of the port of Saint-Malo – a picture-perfect walled town on the northern coast of Brittany – was the perfect digestif.
Hexham: a rampaging throwback
There are few ways better to forget the woes of 2020 than to visit Hexham.
England's most northerly track is in border country. Its position 800ft above sea level offers a fabulous view beyond the course itself, a wide panorama of open Northumberland country that has changed precious little in centuries.
It does not take a great leap of imagination to picture Braveheart and a band of rampaging Scots on the horizon.
The course itself is something of a throwback, a locally owned, independent jumps track that exists for the fun of the sport rather than as a cash cow profiting from its ability to generate off-course levy revenue.
Its spectator-friendly fixture list offers numerous opportunities for a spring or summer day out - the Heart Of All England hunter chase on 2,000 Guineas night is a traditional highlight.
But take a coat as you are quite exposed to the elements and wind and rain are not unknown. No wonder those border raiders wore woad . . .
Yarmouth: good clean fun for all the family
It is generally accepted that it is nice to be beside the seaside, and a visit to Yarmouth only reinforces this adage.
There is something quintessentially British about the course and its surrounding locale. Located on the Norfolk coast, the track is a popular holiday destination, and that family feel is often evident at a meeting.
Live music, a summer craft fair and the ubiquitous ladies' day (and night) are just some of the treats hopefully on offer this summer and whether a racing fan, casual observer or even someone who enjoys an ice-cream it is a lovely place to be when the sun is shining.
Given its proximity to Newmarket, Yarmouth is also a track to spot a future star or two. The maidens can produce some nice sorts from powerful yards, and the three-day Eastern festival in September often delivers decent quality fare.
Pimlico: the quiet wild child of American racing
Baltimore is one of the most interesting cities on the East Coast of the United States. The harbour area matches New York for history and Boston for hipster cred and sports fanatacism; few American sports teams play as centrally to their home city as the Ravens and the Orioles.
Get off the subway to Pimlico one stop too early, however, and one of the more well-intentioned locals will direct you onto the next bus as a matter of urgency. It was the most earnest 'stay safe' I had ever heard, until about three weeks ago.
Preakness day at Pimlico is unlike anything you will see on a British racecourse. While a card full of Graded races is unfolding over about six hours, a literal music festival takes place simultaneously in the middle of the track.
InfieldFest has hosted some major names in recent years, the likes of Childish Gambino, Post Malone and, erm, Pitbull. It is hard to imagine feeling further from a Triple Crown race, and all that separates these two worlds are strips of turf and dirt.
Killarney: Ireland's most picturesque track
You can easily call Killarney one of the world's most picturesque tracks, ideally suited to a relaxed evening of summer racing and there are few nicer places to be when the weather is right.
Killarney hosts summer festivals in mid-May, mid-July, and inherited a third festival in August after the closure of Tralee racecourse in 2007. Nestled close to the nearby lakes and mountains means Killarney can have its own micro-climate, but when the summer sun shines, the mountain and lake backdrop is spectacular and there is certainly no place that can offer such scenery in Ireland or Britain.
It is family friendly and draws large crowds for its summer festivals, and in addition is just a short to medium walk from the tourist hotspot which is Killarney town, with its myriad of hostelries and eating houses. To make a day of it, or even a few days of it, Killarney is a hard place to match.
Plumpton: a proper track with proper racing
A Monday trip to Plumpton is good for the soul. Ideally situated on a train line and with pretty much everything in touching distance once you're there, you'd struggle to find a more charming and convenient racecourse at which to enjoy a day out.
Normally Plumpton hosts jump racing on Mondays (and Sundays) from September to May, including its feature Sussex National meeting in the new year.
The course itself is a round mile, meaning during the longer races the runners might have to do a few laps. The fact you can get so close to the track, and are a within a few steps of the parade ring from the rail, is superb. You can also witness the odd star winner, no doubt because of the track's £60,000 bonus on offer for novice chasers who score at Plumpton and subsequently strike at the Cheltenham Festival.
Decent-priced winners are achievable, given the smaller, compact fields, and the frequency of runners from the yards of local trainers such as Gary Moore, Chris Gordon and Sheena West adds to the narrative.
With many smaller courses, there's a simple brilliance to Plumpton that just draws you back. If you've never made it down to East Sussex, it will be time to right that wrong when racing returns there in the autumn.
Downpatrick: vibrant and forward-thinking
There was a time when Downpatrick was one of the backwaters of Irish racing and was threatened with closure more than once, especially during the troubles in Northern Ireland, which was no fault of the track management at that time as they had to steer the ship through some very choppy waters.
In the last two decades especially though, it has been transformed, with a new grandstand and facilities, and the decision to make it specifically a summer jumps track has been a game changer.
The track itself is tight and very undulating and. It certainly doesn't suit every horse. But the track management deserve every credit for making it a success story.
Friday evenings and Sundays are the preferred racedays, and with themed days and generally the course's ability to produce something for everyone, it is rewarded with very good crowds and a healthy mix of good punters, families, and those there for a good day out or a good night out.
If you like a good atmosphere and plenty of enjoyment, Downpatrick is well worth a visit.
Saratoga: the best of the best in New York
A historic racetrack believed to be one of the oldest sporting venues across America, Saratoga hosts a 40-day meet between July and September every year and features the best riders and horses stateside.
The hot sun regularly blazes down on the dirt and turf courses and the best equine thoroughbreds on the East coast are joined by their West coast counterparts to fight out over 70 stakes races during a three-month period. What more could you want?
Saratoga's Graded races often prove to be the desired stepping stones for potential Breeders' Cup candidates, consequently strengthening your US knowledge, and if celebrities are more your thing, they are often seen in abundance in the VIP boxes.
So book a trip to New York. Take in the atmosphere and ambience in the Big Apple before scheduling in a day-trip (or four) to Saratoga to witness the best of the best.
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