Exeter Racecourse

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Situated near Exeter, high above the beautiful Devonshire countryside, the Exeter Racecourse consistently rates among the best jump tracks in the United Kingdom. It plays host to 15~17 National Hunt meetings each year, during a season that runs from October to May. The season’s highlight is the Haldon Gold Cup held in November and purses are offered worth more than £60,000.

The “Heights” of U.K. Racing

Horseracing is said to have first taken place in the Devon area some 350 years ago, under the reign of Charles II. However, it wasn’t until the formation of the Jockey Club, established in 1750, that racing at Exeter came under standardised rules and regulations. A track was established atop Haldon Hill at a height of 850 feet, making it the highest racecourse of the United Kingdom and giving racegoers wonderful views over Dartmoor.

Initially, the venue was known as the Haldon Racecourse, later renamed the Exeter & Devon. Acclaimed as arguably the South West’s best National Hunt course, it officially became the Exeter Racecourse in the early 1990s. With a length of two miles, it ranks as the second longest course in all of England, featuring eleven fences or seven hurdles per circuit. One of its noteworthy attributes is a stiff uphill final run of a half mile, which is particularly challenging during winter months and favours horses with greater stamina in the closing stages.

Over the years, several well-known race meetings have been added to Exeter’s schedule. Chief among them is the William Hill Gold Cup meeting in November, the primary money-earner for the course, with the William Hill Haldon Gold Cup Chase as its feature race. The New Year’s Day meeting attracts large crowds, too, along with well-known horses, jockeys and trainers.

Desert Orchid was one of those celebrated horses, winning his first chase here in 1985. Another was the champion chaser Azertyuiop, who claimed the 2004 Haldon Gold Cup. And in 2007, Denman won his first race at Exeter before going on to claim the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup. And after coming over from France as a novice, dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star ran two of his first three races on English soil at Exeter.

But perhaps the best-known jumper to grace Exeter was the ill-fated Best Mate, winner of three Cheltenham Gold Cups, equalling Arkle’s famous record. Sadly, he died in 2005, supposedly the victim of a heart attack, while running for the Haldon Gold Cup—the same race he’d won in 2001.

Racing at Exeter Today

Among the most popular fixtures at Exeter in addition to November’s Haldon Gold Cup Day are Best Mate Novice Chase Day in October, New Year’s Day racing, the Cheltenham Festival Preview in February and the season-ending Ladies Night in May. Grandstand and Paddock Badges start at £15, while Haldon Premier Badges cost £20. Accompanied children aged 17 years and under can come racing free of charge.

There are also all-inclusive packages available, such as the Haldon Package for £35, which includes Premier admission, a drink and pub meal in Denman Room, a racecard, and a “Tipster’s Talk” tip sheet. Another is the Punter’s Package for £23, providing Grandstand and Paddock admission, a drink and pub snack in the Martin Pipe Bar, a racecard, a behind the scenes racecourse tour and “Tipster`s Talk.”

Exeter Racecourse has recently completed a £2 million redevelopment project that has doubled the size of its existing conference facilities, whilst adding to raceday hospitality and members’ facilities, including expansion of the Haldon Stand in 2009. Dining options range from the Desert Orchid Restaurant, described by The Times as “British Racing’s Best Bargain,” to a mobile burger van at the rear of the stands. The Conference and Events Centre is also open throughout the year for corporate or private events.

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