Known affectionately within the industry as the Roodee, Chester Racecourse is among the most famous racing venues in the country and indeed the world.
Chester Racecourse is recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest racecourse still in operation, with racing at the venue dating back to at least 1539.
As well as its very rich history, Chester is also unique in its layout. Unusually for a British track, the Roodee is very tight and more akin to an American turf track being just over a mile round.
A number of meetings take place each year on the Flat, though the May Meeting is the most important as it features the Chester Cup as well as various important trials for both the Derby and the Oaks at Epsom.
- Address – Chester Racecourse, Chester, CH1 2LY.
- Owner – Chester Race Company.
- TV Station – Sky Sports Racing.
- Type – Flat.
- Surface – Turf.
Chester is one of a kind in Britain. Its scenery, layout and history all make it important and different with many top horses, trainers, owners and jockeys supporting the track, especially during the May Festival.
Chester’s track is left-handed and very sharp in nature. The track is a circular one, meaning the horses are on the turn for the majority of the time.
The run-in from the final bend is less than two furlongs in length, meaning front-runners and/or those able to hit the bend in the lead tend to do very well as there is not enough time for the majority of runners to recover from bad positions.
A nimble type as well as one who can race to the fore is often needed, as is balance. Low draws are often favoured, though this is more prevalent in the sprint races.
Jockeys have often given mixed reviews of riding Chester. Most agree that being near the front end is an advantage, though when that leads to a strong pace not all agree that the straight is too short as when the pace collapses, that two furlongs can still feel like a long way with fast finishers in behind.
More than at any other course, when a fancied runner goes particularly badly there is often no excuse given other than ‘not handling the track’. Often this proves to be true, with those running badly coming out elsewhere and proving their worth which shows how unique Chester is.
Visiting Chester Racecourse
Chester Racecourse is right in the heart of the city. The City Walls run right alongside the track, offering great views of the home straight for free.
Not only is watching from above at Nuns Road not discouraged, it is covered by TV during the May Meeting with those passing and watching often interviewed.
How to Get to Chester Racecourse
If you’re heading to Chester Racecourse by car, it is signposted by all major roads from around the city.
Chester is close to the M53, M56, M6 and the A483 providing links from the south, Wales, Liverpool and Manchester.
It’s often best to find parking and/or hotels outside of the city. Road closures are in effect in race days in what is a tight and busy city at the best of times.
If you aren’t staying within the city on race days, the best way to get to the track is by train. Chester Racecourse is a 5 to 6-minute taxi journey from the station, or a leisurely 20-minute walk.
Chester station sees arrivals from Cardiff Central, Crewe, Holyhead, Leeds, Liverpool Central, Liverpool Lime Street, Llandudno, Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, with many connections available from all around the country.
You can also get to the track by bus. The best way to do this is by using Chester’s Park and Ride service.
Where to Stay
On busy race days, it may be a struggle to find hotel rooms in the city. If you do get one, you are likely to be within walking distance of the track so Chester itself is the best option.
Failing that, the track is close to Wrexham and Bangor, and is accessible via the M53 from the Wirral. Liverpool is just 20 miles away and Manchester 40, meaning if you are willing to drive or use the train there are thousands of available rooms in top towns and cities nearby.
Major Events at Chester
Chester is capable of attracting some top types, primarily at its May Festival. The best races on the Roodee throughout the year are:
|Lily Agnes Stakes||Conditions Stakes, 2yo Only, Class 2||5f||May Festival||May|
|Cheshire Oaks||3yo Fillies Only, Listed Race||1m3½f||May Festival||May|
|Chester Vase||3yo Colts & Geldings Only, Group 3||1m4½f||May Festival||May|
|Dee Stakes||3yo Colts & Geldings Only, Listed Race||1m2½f||May Festival||May|
|Ormonde Stakes||4yo+, Group 3||1m5½f||May Festival||May|
|Huxley Stakes||4yo+, Group 2||1m2½f||May Festival||May|
|Chester Cup||Handicap, 4yo+, Class 2||2m2½f||May Festival||May|
|Chester Plate||Handicap, 4yo+, Class 2||2m2½f||May Festival||May|
|City Plate Stakes||3yo+, Listed Race||7f||City Plate Day||July|
|Queensferry Stakes||3yo+, Listed Race||6f||Family Funday||July/August|
|Chester Stakes||3yo+, Listed Race||1m6½f||Ladies Day||August|
|Stand Cup||3yo+, Listed Race||1m4½f||Autumn Festival||September|
|Nursery Handicap||Handicap, 2yo Only, Class 2||6f||Season Finale||September|
May Festival and its Trials
Chester goes very big, very quickly during their racing season. The early-season May Festival is the biggest at the track, reaching a wide TV audience and attracting large crowds despite taking place Wednesday to Friday.
The Chester Cup was the main focus, and still is from a betting point of view, however the importance of the Derby and Oaks trials cannot be ignored.
Despite being very different in layout to Epsom, horses do need plenty of balance to handle Chester and so trainers have often sent some of their best Classic prospects to the May Festival to test them out.
The Cheshire Oaks is for fillies and can be used by those looking go to the Oaks at Epsom, while both the 1m2½f Dee Stakes and the 1m4½f Chester Vase are ideal preps for the colts heading to the Derby.
Henry Cecil’s Light Shift (2007) and John Gosden’s Enable (2017) took the Cheshire Oaks before going onto Oaks glory a month later.
In 1981, the great Shergar won the Chester Vase before scoring in record-breaking fashion in the Derby. The same race was taken by subsequent Derby winner Ruler Of The World in 2013. The race has also produced Irish Derby and St Leger winners.
The Dee Stakes-Derby double was completed by Henry Cecil’s Oath in 1999 and Sir Michael Stoute’s Kris Kin in 2003.
About Chester Racecourse
Iconic Chester Racecourse has seven enclosures for racegoers to choose from. There are also a number of restaurants with seats which are pre-bookable with the course. Top-quality hospitality is also available on the Roodee.
Given the layout, Chester does have an Open Course with punters being able to get into the middle of the track for a unique view. At certain meetings, tickets for the Open Course are available at only £10. As well as this, those passing by at the City Walls can easily see down into the track for free.
Though standard bookmaker pitches are offered, the track also has its own pool betting facilities called Chester Bet.
Chester Bet is available at more than 100 points around the racecourse, with live info screens showing the latest odds.
Towards the centre of the course there is a raised mount. This is decorated with a cross known as a ‘rood’. Initially meaning Rood Eye, it is from here we get the name Roodee which means ‘The Island of the Cross’.
A Brief History of Chester Racecourse
- 1539 – Chester Racecourse is established, making it the oldest track in the world still operational. Some sources mark racing as having taken place in the city as far back as 1512.
- 1744 – The Grosvenor Cup is introduced.
- 1766 – Inauguration of the May Festival.
- 1824 – The Tradesmen’s Cup is introduced, the forerunner to the Chester Cup.
- 1874 – The big race is changed to the Chester Trades’ Cup, informally known as the Chester Cup.
- 1884 – Chester’s main feature is now formally known as the Chester Cup.
- 1981 – Shergar wins the Chester Vase en route to famously landing the Derby, before famously disappearing.
- 2012 – All Tote positions are replaced around the track by the in-house Chester Bet system.