Horse racing has been popular in Scotland for the better part of 1,000 years.
Courses have come and gone in Scotland over the years, though both Flat and jumps racing is still catered for with meetings taking place year-round.
Though race meetings and locally-trained horses tend to feature specific Scottish themes, the tracks there come under the auspices of the British Horseracing Authority alongside those in England and Wales.
We’re looking closer at Scotland’s racecourses here; how racing has changed in Scotland over time, where and when the top races are and more.
How Many Courses Are There in Scotland?
There are five racecourses located in Scotland.
Geographically, they range from Kelso in the south east, up to Musselburgh on the east coast, Ayr on the west coast, Hamilton in the central belt and Perth being the furthest north.
In fact, Perth is Britain’s northernmost racecourse.
Perth and Kelso are both jumps racing venues only.
Hamilton hosts only Flat action, while both Musselburgh and Ayr are dual purpose venues.
The Top Racecourses in Scotland
Relative to expectations, Scotland’s racing scene is about quality and not quantity. Only five racecourses exist and all five are important for various reasons.
Scotland’s most important track. Ayr hosts the Scottish Grand National meeting in April over the jumps, usually a week after the Grand National at Aintree. It also hosts the country’s top Flat racing meeting, the Ayr Gold Cup fixture which takes place during a popular holiday time in September.
Situated handily near Glasgow, Hamilton Racecourse runs very regular Flat racing fixtures in the warmer months. Their theme nights are popular and the track is self-sufficient, being run along with the area it sits in by the Hamilton Park Trust.
Situated in the Borders region, Kelso’s standing on the jumps racing circuit as a whole has increased in recent years. The track now hosts some very valuable race days with the action now supported by trainers from all across Britain.
Well supported owing to its positioning close to Edinburgh, Musselburgh stages some valuable race days across both codes. The track once beat Ascot into second place for the Dual Purpose Award at the Neil Wyatt Groundstaff Awards.
Britain’s most northerly racecourse is jumps only, but is known for its popular summer action which often includes DJ’s and other major entertainment after racing. Perth is particularly well supported by major trainers from Ireland as well as the south of England.
Scotland’s Major Races
Scotland’s five tracks host some very competitive events all year round. There are no Group 1 or Grade 1 races in Scotland, but in events such as the Scottish Grand National and the Ayr Gold Cup they have races which are considered some of the top betting events of the year in Britain.
Of major importance in Scotland are:
|Morebattle Hurdle||Jumps||Kelso||February||A £100,000 hurdle race run over 2¼ miles.|
|Edinburgh National||Jumps||Musselburgh||February||Four-mile handicap chase.|
|Scottish Grand National||Jumps||Ayr||April||Run over four miles, this is the equivalent handicap chase to the Grand National at Aintree.|
|Scottish Champion Hurdle||Jumps||Ayr||April||A Grade 2 hurdle over two miles, run during the Grand National meeting.|
|Future Champion Novices’ Chase||Jumps||Ayr||April||A Grade 2 chase, run during the Grand National meeting.|
|Queen of Scots Stakes||Flat||Musselburgh||June||A Listed race for fillies and mares over seven furlongs.|
|Scottish Sprint Cup||Flat||Musselburgh||June||Give-furlong sprint handicap.|
|Glasgow Stakes||Flat||Hamilton||July||Listed race over 1 mile, 3 furlongs.|
|Lanark Silver Bell||Flat||Hamilton||August||£100,000 Heritage Handicap run over a mile and a half.|
|Doonside Cup||Flat||Ayr||September||A Listed race over 1¼ miles, run during the Ayr Gold Cup meeting.|
|Ayr Gold Cup||Flat||Ayr||September||A major 6-furlong handicap with two consolation races.|
|Firth of Clyde Stakes||Flat||Ayr||September||A Group 3 sprint over six furlongs during the Ayr Gold Cup meeting.|
Other Listed races take place at Ayr during the Gold Cup meeting. There are three days of action in total.
How Has Racing Changed Over the Years in Scotland?
When King James VI was pioneering horse racing, he did so mostly in the south of England. The sport was flourishing but was taking its time to reach different parts of the British Isles.
There were some rich racehorse owners from Scotland, including famously the Duke of Queensbury, but often their horses were still raced in England. Racing was to flourish in Scotland however.
A major race in Scotland to have stood the test of time is the Lanark Silver Bell. It is said that the race was first staged in either the 12th or 13th century. It was thought to be the oldest race to have been continually run, until its home at Lanark Racecourse was closed down (see below).
In 2008, the race was reintroduced at Hamilton and as of 2022, the Lanark Silver Bell was handed Heritage Handicap status with its prize fund upped to £100,000.
During the reign of James VI, race meetings were held at Dumfries and Peebles in the 1600’s. He began to concentrate on Newmarket, but Scotland’s racing was to grow without him.
By 1800, there were annual race meetings in five areas. This mirrors more closely the Scottish racing scene of today. Races attached to Edinburgh were moved from Leith to Musselburgh in 1816 and in 1839 there were nine venues.
In more recent times, Scotland’s biggest races have been versions of major events held in England. They include the Scottish Grand National, Scottish Stewards’ Cup, Scottish Champion Hurdle and so on.
Famous Courses in Scotland to Have Closed Down
Those who can remember Scottish racing up to 1977 will remember things differently. For the vast majority of us, the five racecourses we have in Scotland now are all we’ve really known.
In truth, the further you go back, the muddier the waters are. Concentrating on the 19th century onwards however leads us to these unfortunately defunct racecourses in Scotland:
|Lanark Racecourse||1977||The old results board still stands where Lanark Racecourse was. The track was ten furlongs around and hosted among other things the Lanark Silver Bell. It also closed the Scottish horse racing season with the William the Lion Handicap every year.|
|Bogside Racecourse||1966||Situated near Irvine, this racecourse served Ayrshire before Ayr Racecourse. Staging racing from 1808 to 1965, Bogside was closed when funding was reallocated to Ayr though point-to-points continued until 1994.|
|Leith Races||1816||Races were staged at Leith on the sand during low tide. A four-mile King’s Plate was run here from 1728 or earlier, though the track became obsolete when racing moved to Musselburgh.|
As well as these tracks, known racecourses at Dumfries and Eglistoun Park in Ayrshire were closed in the 1800’s.
On the site of the former Lanark Racecourse is the current Scottish Equestrian Centre. The old results board still stands, with the site being very close to Lanark Loch and the Lanark Moor Country Park.
Another closure was threatened in the 2020s. Musselburgh Racecourse was in big trouble for a while and its racing future is still not absolutely guaranteed long term.
At one stage, the BHA did not allow any fixtures at the track with nobody able to run the course effectively. Chester Race Company, organisers of racing at both Chester and Bangor, currently manage the track on behalf of the local council.