According to official records, Chester Racecourse, or Roodee, (as we Cestrian’s like to call it), dates back to the early 16th century, making it the oldest racecourse still in use in England.
Originally used as a harbour by the Romans who settled here, the site was eventually “closed up” to ships. This was due to the river Dee silting, which made navigating into the then harbour impossible.
The Roodee then sat in an almost dormant state until the early 1500’s when the site was 1st used for some “sport” of sorts. It was then that the famous, (or indeed infamous), Goteddsday football match was played. However such was the level of violence within this annual event that the city took to banning it in 1533. There was then a gap of only 6 years when, in 1539, the 1st recorded horse race took place. (Hence the name of the fine restaurant which sits within the racecourse today)
From 1539, and with the consent of the then Mayor Henry Gee (whose name led to the term “gee-gee” within the racing world) horse racing was held each year on Shrove Tuesday (Goteddsday) This was until 1609 when it was moved to St Georges Day when the glorious victors were presented with the “Chester Bells”, (not the pub, but a small set of bells to be hung on the winning horses bridle). The racing at the Roodee continued to be successful and in 1766 the very 1st May festival was held
So that’s how it all started…
…but what is Chester Races now?
Today Chester is undoubtedly a racing jewel of the North West and hosts a number of meetings throughout the turf “flat season” (April through till October) with the premier meeting being the 3-day May Festival. (ladies… …time to get outfit shopping and booking hair/nail appointments!!)
Each day during “Our” festival there are 7 races offering a full mixture of races such as maidens, (for horses who haven’t yet won a race), competitive handicap races and the more prestigious Listed and Group races, where owners and trainers alike will be attempting to secure a bit of “black type” for their respective horses. (The term used by the bloodstock industry to denote a horse which has won, or been placed, in a Group or Listed race which hopefully will increase their breeding value – Good stock and all that!!)
Indeed the May Festival is held in such high regard that the top trainers in both Britain and further afield readily send their best horses to compete during the 3 day festival. In fact it was only last year that the Aiden O’Brien trained RULER OF THE WORLD won the Chester Vase (the feature race on the 2nd day) then some 3 weeks later the very same horse won the 2013 Epsom Derby, (and the small matter of £782,314.45 prize money when doing so)
But that’s enough about the racing! For as high-quality the racing is during these 3 days, the May Festival at Chester Races is much, much more than that. It’s where each day (and night), some 15 – 20,000 race goers descend on the City to enjoy all that the warm-welcoming people of Chester have to offer.
It’s a time, (British weather permitting), where ladies and gentlemen dress in their finery and embrace the whole occasion. It’s a time where on each of the 3 days the easily identifiable sound of champagne corks popping is only eclipsed each half hour or so by the crowd willing their selection home to possible, (or more like hopeful), victory. It’s where old friends are re-united and new friendships are forged, to be re-united at next year’s Festival. It’s quite simply 3 very enjoyable days at the races… …with a great city with great people thrown in for free!!
Yes the racing at Chester is far greater than just racing, but if it IS just the racing you’re interested in and you’re determined to have a wager in the shorter distance races, then make sure your selection is coming out of a stall with a low number…
…I’ve heard they do quite well!!
A HUGE thank you to my friend Ian McBain for writing the copy for this blog. Sir you are a legend x