Chester Racecourse has an amazing history, a turbulent past, but a justifiable reputation for great hospitality.
Known as the Roodee, it is according to official records the oldest racecourse still in use in England, with horse racing at Chester dating back to the early sixteenth century.
It is also thought to be the smallest racecourse of significance in England at 1 mile and 1 furlong long.
The 65-acre venue lies on the banks of the River Dee. The site was once a harbour during the Roman settlement of the city, but was closed as the river silted up thus making navigation impossible.
Towards the centre of the in-field is a raised mound which is decorated by a small cross known as a “rood”. It is from this that the race course derives its nickname as a corruption of “Rood Eye”, meaning “The Island of the Cross”.
According to legend the cross marks the burial site of a statue of the Virgin Mary sentenced to hang after causing the death of Lady Trawst, the wife of the Governor of Hawarden. The legend states that she had gone to church to pray for rain but when her prayers were answered by a tremendous thunderstorm the statue was loosened and fell, killing her. However, as a holy object, hanging or burning the statue would be sacrilege so it was left by the banks of the river and the tide carried it down to Chester. The statue was found guilty by a jury of 12 men. If the legend is true, then this is the first recorded case of a jury being used in a court.
And the Chester Racecourse site was home to the bloody Goteddsday football match. The game was very violent and eventually banned by the city, to be replaced by horse racing.
The first recorded horse race was held on February 8, 1539 with the consent of the mayor Henry Gee, whose name led to the use of the term “gee-gee” for horses.
Races originally took place on Goteddsday (Shrove Tuesday) until 1609, and thereafter on St George’s Day. Victors were awarded the “Chester Bells”, for decorating the horse’s bridle, and from 1744 the “Grosvenor Gold Cup”, a small tumbler made from solid gold.
For decades the racecourse was just an open field. Indeed, the first grandstand wasn’t built until 1817 with the first admittance fee not being taken until 1897.
The stand was rebuilt in 1899-1900, and was replaced after being destroyed by a fire set by an arsonist in 1985.
The racecourse’s position in the city makes meetings at Chester very popular as it is only a short stroll to all the hotels, bars, shopping and restaurants.
The east of the racecourse abuts directly onto Chester’s ancient city walls from where spectators can watch for free enjoying a clear view of the whole circuit.
Course hospitality facilities are excellent.
They include the 1539 restaurant, named after the date of that first race, plus the White Horse gastro pub, while the racecourse, just a two minute walk from the centre of Chester, has its own hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Chester Racecourse, an established favourite.
Chester Race Company Ltd is responsible for both Chester and Bangor-on Dee courses along with all catering and conferencing facilities on site.
A lovely little racecourse in a stunning city.