Weekend Feature: Racing’s Ahead At Ripon Racecourse
Sonia Price takes time out to look round Ripon Racecourse.
If you’re wearied by these high-caution times and long for an altogether gentler and leisurely time, diverted by the most beautiful horses and convivial people, then Ripon Races is a good bet.
At the point of writing, the June 2021 meetings are in clear sight. Admission numbers are limited and you can make your booking online at: ripon-races.co.uk
If you are a stranger to the beautiful city that is Ripon in North Yorkshire you will be charmed.
The eighteenth-century writer Daniel Defoe called Ripon “a very neat, pleasant, well-built town” and this description stands today. The city has a rich racing heritage and was the first racecourse to host a Ladies Race in 1723. Today the course is notable as the only one in the country to stage a race exclusively for riders who have not yet had a winner.
The course we know today was constructed in 1900, and mounted its inaugural race on the 6th August. Ripon racecourse has remained an important fixture in the racing calendar since this date. It is situated off the Boroughbridge Road (B6265) and a stone’s throw from Hewick Bridge which crosses the River Ure. A good stretch of the course runs adjacent to the canal with its abundance of bird life - making the walk from the city centre very pleasant In good weather. It is about a 2-mile stretch according to my regular cab driver who is accustomed to ferrying race-goers to and from the grounds.
Ripon’s racecourse is fondly and fairly termed "Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse’. It’s easy to see why. On entering the grounds, particularly in good summer sunlight, the very greenest of green turf and its evocative scent will cheer you. The well-tended lawns and flowers are a delight and the overall good-order and preservation of the course and its buildings are a testament to those who work year-round to maintain this place. This important enterprise is an enduring and integral spoke in the city’s economy.
Ripon draws some of the country’s most characterful and well-followed owners and trainers, and some of the most watched-out for jockeys and horses. I don’t think I missed a single evening meeting in 2019 and I recall the season’s most talked-about rider Daniel Tudhope for his astonishing run in steering home a succession of winners at Ripon. I am no pundit but it is easy to develop a taste for racing, especially in this most pretty and convivial setting. Racing can be a very sociable pastime with conversation sparking up easily with fellow race-goers - particularly around the parade ring. There is something in the competition which impels people to confer with one another. Tips are shared and new acquaintances are made in the Wakeman Bar. All very conducive to making new contacts and it is small wonder that Ripon Racecourse has such a good reputation in corporate entertaining.
My initiation to Ripon Races was an early one. As far as my horse-loving, Irish mother was concerned, the first day of the Ripon racing calendar was a national holiday. It meant a day off school for all her children as we accompanied her to the meeting with a few shillings apiece for a flutter. Naughty I know, but now when I recall the spectacle of the racing and the burnished limbs of those majestic thorougbreds I am persuaded that there was a kind of romance and wisdom in her eccentricity.
On the course itself, I am advised by those in the know that Ripon’s course is not all it appears. From the usual vantage points it looks like a flat ground but it isn’t. This Is a challenging track with some bends and undulations. I have heard it said that a horse’s performance at Ripon is an indicator for what may be expected at later fixtures. Take it from ex-jockey and racing commentator Jason Weaver in his ‘View From The Saddle’ comment:
“In good conditions, Ripon is a front-runner course, there is a ridge about a furlong and a half out from where you can kick on and, if you can get away at that point you’ll be very hard to beat. It’s a track that can give the impression of being bowling-green flat. It’s not at all and a lot of horses get lost around there. On the sprint course, up against the stand’s side rail is the place to be - ideal for fast horses. They’ve worked hard on the round track latterly and many horses handle it nicely.”
For those who just can’t get enough of the Sport of Kings, the giant screen illuminates Ripon’s live racing, interspersed with the most popular fixtures in the days’ racing from other courses.
And here’s what seals the whole deal in the words of my friend Allan: “There are not many sights in sport better that watching a first class racehorse fend off their rival, poking their nose over the red-circled post”. And as my husband would conclude “especially when you’ve got a tenner on it!” Please have fun and gamble responsibly.
Sonia Price is a freelance writer