Ayr Racecourse

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With the largest capacity in Scotland for horse racing, Ayr Racecourse has been voted Best Racecourse in Scotland and the North East 19 times by the Racegoers Club, including the last nine years in a row. This premier racecourse hosts regular both flat and jump meetings, with an annual schedule that typically consists of 27 race days. Among the main highlights are the Scottish Grand National in April and the Ayr Gold Cup in September. The left-handed oval track is 1.5 miles in circumference and is well-suited to long-striding gallopers

A History of Innovation

Although horse racing in Ayr dates back to 1576, the first properly organised meeting was a two day affair held in 1771. The initial Ayr Gold Cup was not run until 1804, and the inaugural Western Meeting—now known as the William Hill (Ayr) Gold Cup Festival—did not take place until 1824.

Over the next 14 years, Ayr’s signature fixture would grow in importance into Britain’s most valuable race of the season for two year olds. The Ayr Gold Cup would then become a handicap in 1855, setting it up to eventually emerge as the richest sprint handicap in Europe—worth £150,000 in prize money by 2011.

During the interim, the racecourse was moved in 1907 from its original southern location in the Seafield area of Ayr to its current 155-acre site in the Craigie area of town. That allowed the tiny mile-long circuit to be expanded to its present length, eliminating sharp bends and allowing space for extension of the paddock. The design was patterned after Newbury’s, but with a six-furlong straight course rather than a mile.

Another major milestone for the facility was the introduction of National Hunt racing. Creation of the jumps course in 1950 meant that racing could be conducted all the year round racing thereafter. In 1966, the Scottish Grand National was transferred to Ayr following the closure of Bogside Racecourse at Irvine, cementing the position of this property as a major jumps venue.

In 1976, the Firth of Clyde Stakes was first run here, and since 1986 the current £70,000 Group 3 sprint of six furlongs has been a welcome part of September’s Gold Cup meeting. In 1979, the one-mile, two-furlong Group 2 Scottish Derby was established as the summer’s main feature in July. Between 1988 and 2003, the race was known as the Scottish Classic, and in 2006 it was replaced by the York Stakes at York Racecourse.

Top jockeys at Ayr include Phillip Makin and Paul Hanagan, who was crowned the champion Flat Jockey for 2010. Hanagan’s boss, Richard Fahey, is considered to be the top trainer at this ground, representing the R F Racing Ltd stables in Molton.

Modern Facilities & Racing at Ayr

In 2003, Ayrshire businessmen Richard Johnstone and Alan Macdonald purchased Ayr Racecourse and set about implementing a £35 million masterplan of renovations. To date, some £20 million has been spent on a host of improvements, including the completion of the four-storey Princess Royal Exhibition, Banqueting and Conference Centre with its £4.5 million Ayrshire Suite, opened in April 2008. There are also two fine dining restaurants now—the Roman Warrior and The Chancellor Carvery—and Western House has been transformed into an award-winning four-star hotel.

The paddock area of the racecourse was extensively upgraded, too, with the parade ring moving nearer to the course. Also, the spacious Mumm Champagne Gardens were created in the paddock lawn adjacent to the Weighing Room and Seasons Restaurant. Other facilities include the Horseshoe and Furlong bars, Silks Café Bistro, the Be Friendly bar in the paddock area, the Grandstand Sports Bar and the Colours Cafe at the top of the racecourse, and the Courtyard Food Court for fast food on big race days.

Both Club and Grandstand admission packages are available, starting a £27 and £23, respectively. They include an admission badge, racecard, main meal voucher, drink coupon (excluding wine) and a £2 Placepot bet. Special fixtures on the calendar in addition to the Gold Cup Festival are QTS Ladies Night in August, the Flat Finale Raceday in October and John Smith’s Raceday in November, among others.

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