A key part of Britain’s burgeoning all-weather racing scene is Chelmsford City Racecourse in Essex.
Known to many of us simply as Chelmsford, some may remember this track opening under the name of Great Leighs Racecourse in 2008.
At the time, it was the first new racecourse in Britain since Taunton opened in 1927, though was quickly usurped by Ffos Las in 2009.
Chelmsford is a Flat venue, racing on a Polytrack surface and has gone from strength to strength since reopening under this name and under the ownership of Fred Done’s Betfred brand having been previously forced to close as Great Leighs.
- Address – Chelmsford City Racecourse, Chelmsford, Essex, CM3 1QP.
- Owner – Betfred.
- TV Station – Racing TV.
- Type – Flat.
- Surface – All-Weather (Polytrack).
Chelmsford is a popular all-weather venue and gets its share of good types despite competition from Newcastle, Kempton, Southwell, Lingfield and Wolverhampton in that sphere.
The track is formed of a Polytrack surface which is usually pretty quick in nature.
In Chelmsford’s case, the layout is a cross between British and American racetracks. Much like in America, the course here is a one-mile oval going left-handed and is flat in nature, however there are also two chutes for race starts over certain distances.
The winning line comes right before the bend, around which the course is joined by a chute used for one-mile and two-mile race starts. Another chute for seven-furlong races begins to the side of the next bend and joins the course proper at the six-furlong point.
Although made up of a quick surface, the track at Chelmsford is basically a galloping one with wide, sweeping turns making it fair for an oval of this length.
Chelmsford Track Analysis
The Chelmsford City layout has received some high praise from those having ridden the track.
The wide, sweeping turns and long straight allow for very fair race results with the nature of the course offering little in the way of excuses for any type of runner. Even those being hard ridden out of the back straight or off the final bend will not usually find themselves unbalanced.
While a previous bias for front-runners or prominent types was blamed initially on bad kickback, which has largely been resolved, in fact it would appear that the pace angle is still an important one for backers.
The Polytrack really suits pace and so those giving away too much ground at the start or in the middle part of a race will not be able to make it up unless they are exceptional for their grade.
Visiting Chelmsford City Racecourse
While Berkshire, Surrey and to an extent East Anglia are well catered for racing-wise, Chelmsford City is the only racecourse in Essex.
Chelmsford is within reach of towns in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, Bedfordshire and around London and is well supported as a result.
How to Get to Chelmsford City
Given the reasonably short distance from HQ, many Newmarket-based trainers support racing at Chelmsford.
From Newmarket, or for that matter Cambridge, head down the M11 south, turning off at junction 8 near Stansted Airport. Head east on the A120 and look for the racecourse which will be signposted. The track is 40 miles from Cambridge and 49 from Newmarket.
From Ipswich and Colchester use the A12, coming off at junction 12 onto the A120. Again, the track will be signposted.
From Southend and the Basildon area, head north on the A130 up to junction 19. Then head onto the A131 right to the racecourse.
From London, get onto the M11 north up to Bishop’s Stortford. From there, head east along the A120 and follow the signs.
The nearest airport is Stansted which is just 16 miles away. Come out of the airport onto the A120 east and follow the signs for the racecourse or for Great Leighs.
Where to Stay
Any of the above-mentioned towns and cities have an abundance of hotel rooms. There are available rooms in Great Leighs, Chelmsford and Braintree if you wish to stay close to the track.
Chelmsford City Racecourse Fixtures
|Thursday||7th Dec 2023||Floodlit||Flat / All Weather|
|Monday||11th Dec 2023||Floodlit||Flat / All Weather|
|Thursday||14th Dec 2023||Floodlit||Flat / All Weather|
|Thursday||21st Dec 2023||Floodlit||Flat / All Weather|
Major Events at Chelmsford
Chelmsford’s list of important races keeps growing.
As of now, these are the racing highlights during a busy year.
|Cardinal Conditions Stakes||Conditions Race, 3yo Only, Class 2||1m||March/April|
|Chelmer Fillies’ Stakes||3yo Fillies Only, Listed Race||6f||May|
|Queen Charlotte Fillies’ Stakes||4yo+ Fillies & Mares, Listed Race||7f||June|
|Chelmsford City Cup||Handicap, Class 2||7f||August|
The Cardinal Conditions Stakes is a valuable race, though as yet ungraded. It features as a European leg of the Road to the Kentucky Derby. It’s perhaps a question of time before a runner from this race makes it to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses.
About Chelmsford City Racecourse
After the turn of the millennium, it was thought by entrepreneur John Holmes that there was a huge part of the British horse racing market as yet unserved.
While Britain’s abundance of racecourses means that there is roughly one for every million people, the 1.6 million in Essex had no racecourse to call their own.
After successful applications and development, Great Leighs racecourse was due to open in the autumn of 2006. Many delays and frustrations followed however with the first fixture at the track put back to April 2008.
Indeed, on April 20 that year, Great Leighs hosted its first proper race meeting though this was in front of an invited crowd. The first meeting open to ticket-buying public was on May 28, 2008. Despite its modernity, some criticism was attracted for the visitor’s facilities and attendances were not as hoped.
After a troubling first few months, the track was placed into administration and had its licence revoked by the BHA in January 2009.
With insufficient backing and main creditors RBS unwilling to take ownership, administrators signed a deal with local entrepreneur Terry Chambers to lease the course for eighteen months.
This solution didn’t work either, as the track was not granted a licence to race. Several more attempts to gain a licence followed and with future racing seeming unlikely, talks were entered into with RBS to seek a solution that would see the site sold for alternative use away from racing.
There was some hope in March 2011 when Eddie Stobart CEO Andrew Tinkler entered talks with RBS about reopening the course for racing. This was another blind alley and by now the future of the track seemed dire.
Great Leighs was then purchased by MC Racetracks in November 2011 and permission was sought for racing fixtures. 2012 went by with no further racing, and the track’s bid to host racing in 2013 was also rejected by the BHA.
Despite being invited to bid for fixtures in 2014, which MC Racetracks did in June 2013, permission was once again denied.
New Ownership and Change of Name
In the latter part of 2013, it became apparent that an ownership syndicate headed by Fred Done, head of leading bookmaker Betfred, had purchased the track and renamed it Chelmsford City Racecourse. They sought permission for fixtures in 2015 from the BHA.
In April 2014, the BHA confirmed that they would allow what was known as Great Leighs to apply for racing fixtures in 2015 but gave no guarantees on the matter.
In July of 2014 however, the announcement came that the track would indeed be allocated twelve race days during the 2015 season. By the time the 2015 fixture list was released however, this had risen to some 58 meetings with the first meeting at the reopened and rebranded Chelmsford City taking place on January 11, 2015.
The Track as Chelmsford City
The track was successfully reopened on January 11, 2015 in front of 800 invited people. The public was allowed back into the venue for a meeting on January 22 of that year.
By December 2015, the track had appeared on terrestrial TV for the first time on the programme showing the Welsh Grand National on the 27th and their now impressive list of fixtures continued to grow.
Now, two Listed races take place at the track attracting very good fillies over six and seven furlongs in the summer.
Chelmsford also hosts the Cardinal Stakes, a conditions race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby at the end of March or beginning of May and there is talk of a turf course being developed on the site too.