Despite an obvious love of what some would call country pursuits, there are precious few racecourses around England’s furthest south-west.
There is recognised horse racing in Devon however.
We’re going through the courses in Devon as well as nearby, the biggest races in the county, how racing has changed in the area and what the biggest events are in the county.
How Many Courses Are There in Devon?
There are just two racecourses in Devon running under the rules of racing, which is low considering it is the 4th largest county in the country.
Important jumps racing venue Exeter Racecourse is one, while only twelve miles away Newton Abbot makes up the second of the pair of venues in the county.
There are three more courses in neighbouring Somerset for those willing to travel, with only one of the five (Bath) combining a Flat racing course.
Racecourses in and around Devon
There are no racecourses in Cornwall or Dorset, which may be handy info for a quiz, while Gloucestershire and Wiltshire are a little too far for most punters to travel.
These then are the five racecourses situated in Devon and nearby Somerset:
Situated up on Lansdown Hill, Bath is a unique track and the only Flat racing venue on this list. Bath is known for often having fast ground due to their inability to be able to water the track. Firm ground is the norm there, with the track still popular with southern trainers during the summer months.
The most important track in Devon is Exeter, a jumps racing venue. Located on the Haldon hills, it is home to the lauded Haldon Gold Cup among other races. The track is known as the highest in the UK, with Bath not too far behind.
Devon’s other track is Newton Abbot, again a jumps track. Situated right on the banks of the River Teign, Newton Abbot features a very tight track and remains popular with the south-west’s jump trainers such as Paul Nicholls.
Taunton is one of Somerset’s two jumps racing venues. Situated in Orchard Portman, Taunton was known as Britain’s last ‘new’ racecourse, built in 1927, until Great Leighs (now Chelmsford City) was opened in 2008.
Somerset’s Wincanton is another jumps track. An important venue, Wincanton is home to several big races during the season including the Badger Beers Silver Trophy, a handicap, and Grade 2 events the Kingwell Hurdle, the Elite Hurdle and the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase.
Devon and Somerset’s Biggest Races
Across the counties of Devon and Somerset, there are plenty of racing fixtures with the majority being jumps meetings. Bath provides the Flat action, with these being the biggest yearly races across all five tracks:
|Devon National||Jumps||Exeter||February||A handicap chase, run over 3¾ miles.|
|Kingwell Hurdle||Jumps||Wincanton||February||A Grade 2 hurdle run over 1m7f, a top trial for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.|
|Lansdown Fillies’ Stakes||Flat||Bath||April||A Listed race, run over 5 furlongs.|
|Beckford Stakes||Flat||Bath||October||A Listed race for fillies and mares, run over 1¾ miles.|
|Haldon Gold Cup||Jumps||Exeter||November||Important chase race, used as a stepping-stone to Cheltenham.|
|Badger Beer Chase||Jumps||Wincanton||November||A premier handicap chase run over 3m1f.|
|Elite Hurdle||Jumps||Wincanton||November||Like the Kingwell, this is a 1m7f Grade 2 hurdle race.|
|Rising Stars Novices’ Chase||Jumps||Wincanton||November||A top 2½-mile novice chase at Grade 2 level.|
How Has Racing Changed Over the Years in Devon?
At Exeter, racing was popular right through the 17th century. Some still think that Exeter Racecourse is one of the oldest tracks in the country which may be true.
Exeter continued to grow and remained popular right through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Haldon, as it was known, changed its name to Devon and Exeter and then eventually Exeter Racecourse in the 90’s. The popularity of jumps racing at Exeter went up and down heading towards the millennium, but now goes strong.
Newton Abbot’s current plot was bought in 1866, with racing having taken place there in one form or another for over 150 years. Back in 1945, 17,500 people attended the track on August Bank Holiday, but crowds are sadly lower these days.
Late August was very popular for racing in county. Back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, late summer race meetings were hugely popular at Weymouth, Blandford, Tiverton and Plymouth but sadly all of those tracks are no more.
As of the 2020’s, the biggest race taking place in this region is the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. This race is a genuinely classy event, won in recent times by Flagship Uberalles, Best Mate, Edredon Bleu, Azertyuiop, Cue Card, Politologue and Greanateen, all top-class horses with Grade 1 winning form.
Famous Courses in Devon to Have Closed Down
Although very little has changed in the last 50 years or so, Britain did have many popular racecourses which were forced to close over time. Devon has its share of those, including:
|Buckfastleigh Racecourse||1960||Open since 1883, the course closed in 1960 but the area is still used for point-to-point races.|
|Totnes Racecourse||1939||Referred to as the Totness and Bridgetown Races, some longer-distance chases were held here until war time.|
|Plymouth Racecourse||1930||Open for over 100 years, Plymouth Racecourse held yearly meetings in May and August.|
|Weymouth Racecourse||1882||Another end-of-August meeting was held at Weymouth.|
|Tiverton Racecourse||1874||Two-day meetings at the end of August were staged at Tiverton.|
|Tavistock Racecourse||1857||Tavistock ran meetings in May each year.|
|Dorchester Racecourse||1857||Yearly mid-September meetings were held here.|
|Blandford Racecourse||1844||The Dorsetshire Gold Cup was run here at the end of August each year.|