Berkshire is extremely important to horse racing in England. Not only are some of the biggest and most important races held in the county, but it is also home to Lambourn which, like Newmarket, is a major training centre.
Take a closer look at horse racing in Berkshire. We check out the county’s current racecourses, how things have changed down the years, the biggest races in the county and the courses to have closed down over time.
How Many Courses Are There in Berkshire?
As of 2023 there are three racecourses left in Berkshire.
Two of them are major dual-purpose tracks, which means top-class jumps and Flat action can be seen year-round, while one more is a Flat-only venue.
All three are of a high standard, with Ascot in particular hosting some of the biggest meetings on the racing calendar, being equally well known for its association with the Royal Family.
Racecourses in Berkshire
When a county has only three racecourses you may expect a dearth of top-class action. That is certainly not the case with Berkshire.
As you can see from the list below, two of Berkshire’s racecourses are among the most important in world racing.
There is not a horse racing fan in the world who hasn’t heard of Ascot. Home of the Royal meeting in June, this track hosts a number of Britain’s Group 1 races. Eight of them alone come during the big one in June, while Champions Day is also hosted at the track in October.
Over the jumps there is more Grade 1 action during the winter at Ascot. Major handicap races over both codes are also held at the track.
Another hugely important dual-purpose venue is Newbury. Over jumps there is graded action in the winter, while on the Flat the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes is among the most important mile races anywhere in the world.
Newbury is considered to be the local track for many top trainers working out of Lambourn.
Royal Winsor doesn’t offer the same sort of class racing as the other two, but it is a busy Flat track popular on Mondays during the summer. Windsor remains very popular with southern-based jockeys and trainers, though is visited from Newmarket and beyond.
Berkshire’s Major Races
Windsor stages a couple of Pattern races and some nice handicaps, but the big action in Berkshire is at Newbury and Ascot. The best of the yearly races here are:
|Clarence House Chase||Jumps||Ascot||January||2m1f Grade 1 chase.|
|Ascot Chase||Jumps||Ascot||February||2m5f Grade 1 chase.|
|Betfair Hurdle||Jumps||Newbury||February||A major premier handicap hurdle, Betfair Hurdle Day also contains two major Graded chase races.|
|Greatwood Gold Cup||Jumps||Newbury||March||A premier handicap chase over 2m4½f.|
|Greenham Stakes||Flat||Newbury||April||Top trial for the 2000 Guineas, run over 7 furlongs for 3yo colts.|
|London Gold Cup||Flat||Newbury||May||Top handicap over 1m2f, often won by future Group horses.|
|Lockinge Stakes||Flat||Newbury||May||A Group 1 race over a mile for those aged 4+.|
|Queen Anne Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||1m Group 1 for those aged 4+, run during Royal Ascot.|
|King’s Stand Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||5f Group 1 sprint run during Royal Ascot.|
|St James’s Palace Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||1m Group 1 race for 3yo only, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Prince of Wales’s Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||1m2f Group 1 race for those aged 4+, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Ascot Gold Cup||Flat||Ascot||June||2m4f Group 1 race, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Commonwealth Cup||Flat||Ascot||June||Six-furlong Group 1 sprint, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Coronation Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||1m Group 1 race for 3yo fillies, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||Group 1, six-furlong sprint run during Royal Ascot.|
|Royal Hunt Cup||Flat||Ascot||June||One-mile heritage handicap, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Wokingham Stakes||Flat||Ascot||June||Six-furlong heritage handicap, run during Royal Ascot.|
|Weatherbys Super Sprint||Flat||Newbury||July||A valuable sales race for juveniles.|
|King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes||Flat||Ascot||July||A Group 1 race over 1m4f, often brings together the best of the Classic and older generations.|
|Mill Reef Stakes||Flat||Newbury||September||Group 2 six-furlong sprint for juveniles.|
|British Champions Sprint Stakes||Flat||Ascot||October||6f Group 1, run on Champions Day|
|British Champions Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes||Flat||Ascot||October||1m4f Group 1, run on Champions Day|
|Queen Elizabeth II Stakes||Flat||Ascot||October||1m Group 1, run on Champions Day|
|Champion Stakes||Flat||Ascot||October||1m2f Group 1, run on Champions Day|
|Ladbrokes Trophy||Jumps||Newbury||November||A premier handicap chase, run during the Winter Carnival.|
|Challow Novices’ Hurdle||Jumps||Newbury||December||A Grade 1, 2m4½f novice hurdle.|
|Long Walk Hurdle||Jumps||Ascot||December||3m1f Grade 1 hurdle.|
How Has Racing Changed Over the Years in Berkshire?
Horse racing and training has been associated with Berkshire for centuries. William Craven III was a major owner and breeder. In 1727 he began the Wantage Racehorse Meetings, with another meeting held in 1728.
This came after the discovery of the area we now know as Ascot Racecourse by Queen Anne in 1711. She had been riding out from Windsor Castle when she came across the area, realising it would be ideal for the sport. From there, ‘Royal Ascot’ was essentially born as meetings began soon after.
A permanent building at Ascot was built in 1793, capable of holding more than 1600 people. In 1805 the Newbury Races were first recorded, moving to Woodhay Heath in 1811. In 1813, an Act of Parliament was passed ensuring that Ascot Heath would be kept for use as a racecourse for the future.
Racing and training at Lambourn continued to progress, with Windsor Racecourse also holding meetings. In 1905, Newbury Racecourse was opened in its current location in Greenham and ultimately became known as the fairest course in the country for all runners.
Over at Ascot, things only got better as the years went on. The Queen attended the royal meeting in June every year from her coronation in 1953 right up to 2021.
In 2011, Champions Day was moved from Newmarket to Ascot. Since then, the British Champions Series has ended at the track in October with five divisions finding their champions. As of 2023, Berkshire remains the most important part of the country for horse racing away from Cheltenham (jumps) and Newmarket (Flat).
Famous Courses in Berkshire to Have Closed Down
Other than today’s big three, Berkshire has played host to other racecourses over time.
Those to have been well known but now closed are:
|Hawthorn Hill Racecourse||1939||After racing for many years, Hawthorn Hill closed at the start of WWII, never to reopen.|
|Abingdon Racecourse||1875||Racing took place at Abingdon for more than 100 years. The track featured a six-furlong sprint course and a ten-furlong round course.|