Towcester Racecourse

Address:
London Road, Towcester, Northamptonshire, NN12 6LB - Map & Directions
Telephone:
01327 353414
Towcester Racecourse Grandstand
Towcester Racecourse Grandstand (Oliver Hunter / geograph.org.uk)

Located in Northamptonshire, racing has been taking place on the current course at Towcester since it opened, way back in 1928. It has been regularly modernised and was recently completely rebuilt, at a substantial cost of £7.5m. Part of the restructure of the course included the addition of a greyhound-racing track, which was installed directly in the centre of the current horseracing circuit. Greyhound racing at Towcester predominantly occurs during the evening and never coincides with horse racing meetings.

Towcester racecourse is situated just a mile from Towcester town centre and can easily be accessed by car. Those driving are encouraged to exit the M1 at J15A and follow signs to the racecourse from the town centre. Travelling by train isn’t as easy, with Northampton the nearest station more than nine miles from the course. Northampton has links with London Euston and Birmingham New Street and there is a taxi rank outside the station, so Towcester is generally accessible from most areas for those happy to take a taxi to the course.

Towcester Racecourse Is Now Closed

In August 2018 the owners of Towcester Racecourse put it into administration, immediately cancelling all scheduled fixtures for both horse racing and greyhound racing. 

November 2018: Fermor Land Take Control

The future of racing at Towcester was thrown into major doubt in August 2018 as debts of £1.3m forced course directors to place the company under administration. Redundancies of more than 130 staff immediately followed, with just three members kept to help the administrators find a buyer. The search for a buyer did not go on for too long with local company Fermor Land LLP, linked to Lord Hesketh, acquiring their assets in November the same year.

The newly formed company, based in Milton Keynes, led by Lord Hesketh’s brother-in-law, Anthony Henry Westropp, was one of 26 interested parties in Towcester Racecourse and one of four to put in an offer. There was initially some hope of a fairly speedy return, as early as May 2019, but with no racing licence application submitted, fixtures normally held at the course were reallocated elsewhere.

The British Horseracing Authority, however, avoided reallocating the 10 fixtures usually assigned to the track in the 2020 fixtures list as they confirmed they were in discussion with the track’s new owners.

By withholding the meetings the Northamptonshire venue historically held, there is a chance racing will soon return to the menu at Towcester. Things remain very much up in the air though as failure to get their affairs in order in time will simply see the 10 fixtures dished out to other racecourses once again.

October 2019: Course Shut for Good

Fermor Land LLP’s takeover of Towcester Racecourse increased hope that one day action would return to the venue but their efforts to salvage the course proved in vain. Despite positive murmurings over the summer and the reservation of the course’s 10 fixtures for the season ahead, a damning story spread across the media on 1st October 2019, announcing that Towcester Racecourse would be shut permanently.

Marking the end of an era, BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman, paid his respects to the venue saying that it’s a place which will have “undoubtedly have created fond memories for many racing fans and participants.”

Wayman did not go into great detail as to why talks with the new owners failed to materialise, stating only that they were unable to find a solution which allowed racing to resume. Fermor Land LLP did not divulge any details either, simply stating they would look “to the future with enthusiasm” while also announcing they would later provide an update regarding the resumption of greyhound racing and possible point-to-point fixtures. The assumption is, however, that a return was simply not financial viable for a racecourse more than £1.3m in debt.

As previously mentioned, Towcester had been awarded 10 fixtures for the 2019-20 season, despite not holding a licence from the governing body. This optimistic offering was issued simply in case they were able to get their affairs in order in time. Suddenly needing a new home, the Arena Racing Company purchased the unencumbered freehold of the fixtures, a move that received swift approval from the BHA. The only stipulation was that the ARC must use all the fixtures for jump racing as initially intended.

A Sad Day For Racing

The closure of the 90-year-old venue marked a gloomy day in the history of British racing with many well-known trainers and jockeys expressing their sadness. Martin Keighley posted on Twitter, "Such sad news. 20 times we saw our horses storm up the hill in front at Towcester - a lucky track for us." Jonjo O’Neill, who trained AP McCoy’s 4000th winner, took the time to reminisce on the landmark win while also calling the closure the “end of an era”.

By closing its doors, Towcester became the 17th British racecourse to shut since 1960, although Great Leighs (now Chelmsford City) and Hereford have since reopened. There seems little possibility of Towcester rising from the ashes anytime soon though with thoroughbred action seemingly no longer a profitable venture at the track.

A closure that was once viewed as temporary is now very much a permanent one, although point-to-point offerings could well feature in the near future. Despite this and despite an overall reduction in the number of fixtures for the first time since 2012, the BHA declared that the outlook for the sport is still “a positive one”. Will any other courses follow Towcester? Racing is very dependent on the gambling industry for funding and with increasingly negative press, restrictions on advertising and tighter regulatory controls, we could yet see more courses struggling.

Ticket Prices

For paid events, general admission is £10 for adults with under 16s allowed entry free of charge, subject to possible proof of age requirements. However, as detailed below, most meetings at Towcester are free entry, making it a great option for families and those on a budget.

The Course

Towcester is exclusively a National Hunt track and racing here is undertaken right-handed over a distance of 1m6f on a course that is almost square in shape. Due to the extremely sharp bends at the course and the long, uphill finish, races at Towcester are generally very entertaining, often with unexpected results. This may not be the fairest or most predictable course but it makes for great racing!

The steeplechase course consists of nine fences, two of which are positioned down the home straight. There’s a short-run in as a result and one which also features the entrance to the stables, a distracting sight for some horses. On the chase course, the obstacles themselves aren’t overly stiff with high causality rates instead a result of tiredness and the fences riding big on heavy ground. The hurdles course has six flights, again with two fences located prior to the winning post.

Stamina Proves Crucial

On good ground, horses usually last the trip at Towcester pretty well but that is far from the case when things are a little softer. Any horse that exerts too much energy in the early stages quickly ends up fading away on a course that almost appears uphill all the way around.

Of course this can’t be true but the final mile is most definitely on an incline, providing a real gruelling finish for any tiring thoroughbred. Across this section, making up any ground on soft or heavy going can be a particularly punishing task and so jockeys really can’t afford to hang too far behind should a stayer be leading the charge.

By holding racing throughout the winter months, it’s common that the emphasis is on lasting the trip at Towcester. It makes it an ideal destination for slower horses with the pace sometimes so steady you wonder if the horses will even manage to clear the fences. Those that plod along from start to finish can often end up winning by handsome margins with their competitors simply running out of steam at what can be such a testing place to race.

Major Meetings at Towcester

Easton Neston Gate at Towcester Racecourse
Easton Neston Gate at Towcester Racecourse (tristan forward / geograph.org.uk)

From 2002, entry to all race days was free of charge and attendances increased dramatically as a result. In 2006, Towcester started charging entry for the two most popular events of the year – Boxing Day and Easter Sunday – whilst all remaining race days have remained free of charge. Towcester generally hosts around 18 days of racing each calendar year.

Dining and Hospitality

Towcester Racecourse
Towcester Racecourse (David Hillas / geograph.org.uk)

As part of the extreme remodelling of the entire course, Towcester put a lot of time into making sure the corporate dining and hospitality areas were on a par with rival courses and ensured visitors were getting their money’s worth when they housed race day guests in private hospitality suites. In terms of private boxes, Towcester offers four different price ranges, each with varying food and drinks menus and additional benefits, and able to cater to the needs of all customers.

The lowest priced suite is the Pomfret Suite, which is available for as little as £50 per person, with the next cheapest option being the Paddock Marquees, which are trackside so allow guests the benefits of being up close to the racing action whilst staying comfortable and well fed in a relaxed environment. The Empress Suite is priced at £75 per person, with the most expensive area available being the Private Suite, which starts from £110 per person. All menus and other luxury benefits that come with corporate hospitality, as well as any other information required, can be found by contacting the racecourse directly.

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