Floodlit horse racing isn’t entirely new, though in terms of acceptance it is still many years behind such sports as football, rugby and cricket.
We look into floodlighting, the current floodlit racing venues and we also delve into why other courses aren’t currently lit for racing.
What Is a Floodlit Racecourse?
The now familiar, broad-beamed artificial lights we’re used to seeing in football stadiums are occasionally employed at horse racing venues too.
Though now taken completely for granted, floodlights being used for sporting events and allowing them to be staged outside of daylight hours are crucial to sport.
Floodlights have allowed evening midweek games in football for years, meaning working people can attend. It also means sporting events can take place in prime TV hours which is important for revenue.
In horse racing, they have been utilised in Flat racing on all-weather courses for a number of years now.
Floodlit Racecourses in the UK
Floodlights have allowed for some spectacular scenes in overseas racing, especially in Hong Kong and Dubai.
Those evening races under the lights at Happy Valley, right in the heart of the city, or at Meydan for the Dubai World Cup are great spectacles but we haven’t used them at that high a level in the UK or Ireland just yet.
There is more to come overseas too. In 2023, top Australian jockey Glen Boss suggested that the Melbourne Cup at Flemington could be staged under the lights. That is a very interesting thought indeed.
As for Britain, a major complaint of punters in recent years has been our congested Saturday cards in the summer.
Many a big race has been moved from midweek to the weekend but floodlighting could help. If it is better for the sport’s income to run almost all major races on a Saturday then fine, but should we use the technology to spread those races out more and into the evening?
There’s nothing wrong in principle with running the Ebor at York in the afternoon, but perhaps the Solario Stakes at Sandown in the evening.
Easier still would be using the tracks already equipped with floodlights. In late June, it would make sense to allow Chester, Doncaster, Newmarket etc to race as normal in the afternoon but move the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle to the evening.
This would give the racing an arena or evening football game feel. If courses insist on music gigs after racing too, then allowing the band to play in the evening is more conducive to that atmosphere than kicking off in the sunlight at 5pm.
Newcastle in fact is one of the current British and Irish floodlit courses, the full list being:
- Chelmsford City
- Kempton Park
- Lingfield Park
First built as Great Leighs Racecourse, this venue was once closed down but was reinvented as Chelmsford City Racecourse
Another busy track, owing to the lights Chelmsford tends to run a lot of its meetings in the evening to capitalise as much as possible on the extra TV revenue.
Ireland’s only all-weather venue, Dundalk Stadium, stages horse racing and greyhound racing under the lights. This allows the venue to stay busy, though it offers quality to go alongside the quantity.
When Kempton changed to an all-weather surface for its Flat races, they added floodlighting in 2006.
While their jumps meetings such as King George Chase Day and the likes are naturally run early in the day, Kempton runs many decent handicaps, novice races and even Pattern races under the lights each year making it one of the better floodlit venues.
The Winter Million jumps racing and the Derby and Oaks Trials are still staged on the turf and in daylight, but Lingfield’s floodlights allow punters to see some great finishes on the all-weather track.
Many a trainer once said that topographically, Newcastle had the best turf course in the country and nobody wanted to see it dug up. We all lost that fight, but how wrong we were to think it would affect the quality of racing.
True, Newcastle hosts a lot of meetings now but owing to the very popular, safe and fair Tapeta surface some future superstars have run there.
Floodlights were installed to allow for evening fixtures outside of the summer, though major meetings such as the Northumberland Plate were not moved.
Britain’s first Group 1 race on the all-weather, the rearranged Vertem Futurity in 2019, was run under the lights and it’s hoped more big races will be too.
Owing to the positioning of houses on the back side of the course, floodlighting is not allowed on the whole track here. Instead, only the straight mile is lit up. Light pollution (see below) means floodlit races over 1¼ miles and beyond cannot take place here.
Though still having a reputation for lower-grade racing, the all-weather events at Southwell are often accompanied by LED floodlighting supplied by Musco.
The lights go right round the course and give it a great look, one which would also work at tight one-mile turf venues such as Chester.
Like Southwell, Wolverhampton is floodlit all the way around meaning those with the right vantage point can watch Fast-Track Qualifiers for the All-Weather Championships and see all the action. Wolverhampton has had lighting since 1993.
Why Aren’t All Racecourses Floodlit?
While light pollution is a genuine reason, as is the case with the far side of the track at Newcastle, good old tradition is the main reason many do not want lights at other Flat courses.
It’s fair to say that there is a cost involved too and racing is not on the best financial footing at the moment, but give the purists a chance and they will tell you they’d never want to watch a high-quality Group race on the Flat under lights which is a major shame.
The lights aren’t always suitable for jumpers either. Some racecourses can only run in the summer due to the threat of flooding, meaning the natural light is always good and floodlights are unnecessary.
Another reason is that summer tracks, such as Flat-only venues like Newmarket and York, can move to evening racing in natural light. Again, there is no real need for floodlighting here.
Even with that in mind however, it can be argued that if lighting makes things easier for the paying and watching public, it should be installed up the straights of places like this. Some races over run and go off in bad light, others are staged in bad weather and make them poor visual spectacles.
Other Sports Have Embraced the Lights
Not only did football bring in floodlighting way back in time, some sports which were seen as traditionally daytime, sunlit outdoor affairs have long since moved on and embraced artificial lighting.
Cricket grounds installed floodlights primarily to put on Day/Night games which increased crowd sizes midweek.
The sport’s administrators however allowed for the lights to be turned on towards the end of play in Test matches. This was a forward-thinking move and meant that play did not always need to be suspended for bad light and the crowd get their money’s worth.
Similar things have happened in tennis at traditional grass court venues such as Wimbledon, but will racing ever follow suit?
The purists would refuse it even if it was cost-effective and beneficial to the sport, though at some point they simply need to understand that as far as lighting and dress codes are concerned, time moves on and so should this sport.