Plumpton Racecourse is located near Lewes and Brighton in the village of Plumpton, East Sussex. It features one of the smallest National Hunt (jumping) circuits in all of Britain, measuring just over one mile, with a tight, left-handed hurdle course on the outside and a chase course on the inside. Both tracks share a rising finish in the hilly terrain. Trains from London Victoria make a connection at Lewes for Plumpton railway station adjacent to the racecourse.
In 1876, Thomas Henry Case founded the first enclosed hare coursing venue here. Eight years later, the first horseracing took place, when a horse named Cowslip ridden by Harry Escott won a hunters event and then a second race on the same day. The inaugural steeplechase victory was claimed in 1884 by Olanleigh ridden by his owner Captain Fisher. By 1889, coursing meetings ceased and a season of 15 full days of racing was scheduled.
In 1904, the Tattersalls Grandstand was transferred from defunct Northampton racecourse. Despite financial difficulties and the curtailment of racing during the two world wars, interest in jumps racing survived and the Marquess of Abergavenny Challenge Cup was inaugurated in 1948, first won by Southborough ridden by Commander Richard Courage (possibly the only naval officer to ride a winner at Plumpton) and then in 1950 by Nickel Coin, a horse that would go on to win the 1951 Grand National.
In 1961, Isidore Kerman purchased the course and brought about many of the improvements that were needed, starting with reducing the height of the brow of the hill on the inside course to improve viewing. Within the next decade, a new hostel for stable staff was opened, the race programme was expanded to 16 days per season and a new Members’ Enclosure Stand (now the Sussex Stand) was completed. In 1989, the Pavilion Stand (now Southdown Stand) was opened by Sir Ian Trethowan, followed by the Kybo Stand (now Lewes Stand) a year later.
By 1998, Plumpton Racecourse was once again in financial trouble. It was sold to Peter Savill and Adrian Pratt to ensure its economic survival and protect it from the developers. They eliminated the last water jump, installed an all-weather parade walk in front of stands and completed 37 meetings between April 1998 and October 2000, the longest period of racing at Plumpton without interruption since 1927.
In 2008, Plumpton appointed its first female Chief Executive, Claire Sheppard. Then, on 9 February 2009, the racecourse entered the history books of racing when jockey Tony McCoy rode his 3,000th winner on the Nicky Henderson trained Restless d’Artaix.
Racing at Plumpton Today
The racecourse has come a long way in 137 years. Facilities today include an old style pub with a seafood bar and a betting shop inside, on-course bookmakers, Tote betting, a trackside marquee, cash machines, baby changing areas and, for the disabled, special parking zones, toilets, dedicated raised viewing areas and access ramps.
To actively take part in the National Hunt season, which runs from September through May, Plumpton Racecourse now offers 16 jumps fixtures each year. The sharp, undulating, left-handed track with its clay surface can provide a real test for both horses and riders, with the ground particularly testing during the winter months, when the uphill finish often plays an important role in the race results.
Special events on the annual schedule include Family Raceday to kick off the season in September, the two-day Totepool Easter Meeting and Ladies’ Day to close the season in May. For most fixtures the gates open at 11am, with adult tickets priced from £10 advance sale to £18 on arrival. Senior discounts are available and accompanied children under 18 years of age are admitted free of charge. There is no formal dress code at Plumpton other than “dress for the weather.”