Taunton Racecourse

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As the home of National Hunt racing in Somerset, Taunton Racecourse is located in the rural village of Orchard Portman, just two miles south of Taunton. The one-mile, two-furlong track is a right-handed oval that consists of tight bends and two wide straights. Race meetings are conducted from January through May and then take a break until October or November until the end of the year. Racedays total 16 annually, including such noteworthy events as January’s Carlsberg U.K. Handicap Hurdle and November’s Audrey Chudleigh Memorial Handicap Hurdle, among others.

A Relative Newcomer

Taunton Racecourse has the distinction of being the youngest currently operating horse racing venue in England. Although racing in the area dates back to the 18th century, attempts to hold regular meetings were curtailed by wars—first the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th century and later World War One. The current racecourse was completed in 1927 on a parcel of land known as Orchard Great Field, which was granted for the purpose by Viscount Portman. The first race, the “Shoreditch Selling Hurdle,” was won by Baalbek, owned by Mr. Rayson.

In its early years, the course’s small wooden viewing stand was often surrounded by a sea of mud. However, concerted efforts to drain the Somerset clay soil have resulted in the best possible going throughout the season and race meetings are very seldom abandoned nowadays. Of interest, displaced earth from the construction of the M5 motorway was used to build up and extend the track’s bends and its back straight. Facilities for spectators were also greatly improved over the course of eight decades.

Local trainers such as Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and David Pipe are among some of the best in the country, and they have found Taunton to be an excellent venue for running some of their finest horses. Among the many jockeys who have fared especially well at this course are Ruby Walsh and Sam Thomas.

Racing at Taunton Today

Because Taunton Racecourse has been designed especially for jumping, it features both fences and open ditches to negotiate—a total of seven obstacles to each lap. The track offers two long straights and two sharp bends, which play to the strengths of handy types. It does not operate flat turf or all weather racing.

Spectators describe the atmosphere as very friendly. Taunton is particularly popular with locals, who call it “a country track through and through.” Facilities include the Orchard Stand and Restaurant, the Portman Stand with its buffet, and the Paddock Stand, which is the members’ enclosure, as well as the newer A.P. McCoy Stand. Drinks and dining are available at the Saddle Room Café, Portman Bar and Winning Post Bar, too.

Packages for racedays, which must be booked in advance, cost £30 and include a Grandstand ticket, a food and drink voucher for a snack with a drink (beer/wine/soft drink), a racecard for the day and a tote £10 betting voucher. Grandstand tickets can be purchased on site for £15, allowing access to all areas other than the members and private hospitality boxes. Accompanied under-16s are admitted free of charge, and parking is free, too.

Taunton Racecourse is served by rail to the southwest and by airports in Bristol (an hour away) and Exeter (45 minutes). Visitors can also make the journey here by car in 90 minutes from Cardiff, just over two hours from Birmingham and three hours from London.

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