Pontefract Racecourse

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The medieval town of Pontefract in West Yorkshire is one of the five towns within the metropolitan borough of the City of Wakefield. It has a population of 28,250 and is home to the longest continuous horse racing circuit in Europe: Pontefract Racecourse. The track is situated within Pontefract Park and measures two miles and 125 yards. Served by excellent road and rail links, it stages flat racing events during a season that runs from the end of March through the end of October.

Centuries of Racing History

Before 1086, Pontefract Castle began as a wooden motte and bailey castle, which was later rebuilt in stone. Records indicate that racing first took place in the meadows near the town of Pontefract before the castle was taken by the forces of Oliver Cromwell, as early as 1648. However, all events were discontinued by 1769, and it wasn’t until 1801 that the townsfolk restarted the sport.

During World War Two, when most of Britain’s other courses were out of action, a number of major races were conducted at Pontefract, such as the Lincoln Handicap, established at Doncaster in 1853, and the November Handicap, another Doncaster original, inaugurated in 1876. After the War, in 1952, some of the nation’s first photo finish equipment was installed. Pontefract Racecourse also has the distinction of being the very first English course to house a dope testing facility.

Among several noteworthy races inaugurated at Pontefract in the second half of the 20th century was Britain’s longest handicap race on the flat, the Marathon Handicap Stakes. It covers a distance of two miles, five and half furlongs. Another top-rated event launched in 1993 was the Silver Tankard Stakes, a listed flat horse race open to two-year-old thoroughbreds and extending for a mile and four yards (1,613 metres). Others include the Pipalong Stakes, the Pomfret Stakes and the listed Pontefract Castle Stakes.

Trainers that have done well at this course in recent seasons include Richard Fahey, whose stables are based nearby in Musley Bank as well as Mark Johnston, who is based just 15 minutes from the course. Among the most successful jockeys of late have been Paul Hanagan and Tom Eaves.

Racing at Pontefract Today

Even though it is not considered a major among Yorkshire’s nine courses, Pontefract is certainly one of the most popular tracks in the north of England. Its stiff, undulating two-mile circuit tests the stamina of horses in staying races, and sprints here tend to favour starters on the inside with a low draw. When the going is heavy, however, the inside rail soon gets chewed up and the left-hand turns benefit high numbers.

Pontefract Racecourse conducts 16 meetings annually, including three Sundays, three evening meetings and ten midweek afternoon meetings. Those include a number of theme days, such as Singles Night, Pontefract’s Got Talent Night, Family Days, Ladies Day and a Beer Festival Night. Standout meetings are the Pontefract Castle Stakes in June, the Pomfret Stakes at The Yorkshire Racing Summer Festival in July and the Silver Tankard Stakes, which takes place in the Season Finale each October.

Trackside facilities range from four spacious Enclosures—Premier, Grandstand & Paddock, Silver and Picnic—to disabled facilities and a crèche in operation for every Sunday meeting. A number of different options are available for eating and drinking at the racecourse, from Yorkshire’s famous Fish & Chips offered at mobile units to glasses of bubbly served at the Champagne Bar and pints of Yorkshire bitter at the Picnic Enclosure.

Typical of packages offered at Pontefract is The Paddock Package priced at £23. It includes admission to the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure, a main meal at the self-service restaurant, a drinks voucher (pint of beer/lager or glass of wine) and a racecard. Accompanied children under 18 are admitted free of charge into every enclosure at every race meeting.

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