Horse racing is one of the sports that has enjoyed the longest longevity, with some of the most prestigious races on the calendar having been staged for over 100 years. However, some of the races that were staged in the early history of horse racing remain at the homes in which they were first competed.
Horse racing tracks that have been around the longest periods of time have become among the most visited on the planet, as they enable fans to take a step back in time and embrace the history that the sport has to offer. But, what are some of the oldest race tracks in the world?
The oldest horse racing track in the world by a considerable margin is Chester. In fact, the track also helped the sport in the UK come up with the nickname of ‘gee-gees’, as it was determined to be a track for the sport by Mayor Henry Gee. Racing at Chester was first staged in 1539, before the first grandstand at the course was built in 1817.
However, the date of the first race at the track is questioned, as some reports claim that the first event at Chester was staged back in 1512. Nowadays, the big race meeting at the track takes place in May, with the three-day festival headlined by the prestigious Chester Cup.
While Chester may the oldest racecourse in the world, the most prestigious in the United Kingdom can be found at Newmarket. This track has hosted racing since the 1600s following involvement from Charles II. Despite the fact that racing at the track got underway 300 years later than Chester, Newmarket is one of the most famous due to the fact that it is the only venue in the world that has seen a reigning monarch ride a winner.
Nowadays, the track is most famous for hosting the first Classics of the British season, with the 1,000 Guineas and 2,000 Guineas both being held across one of the early weekends in May. As well as that, there are nine Group 1 races staged at the venue annually.
Many believe Ascot to be the oldest racecourse in the world, but by the time that the course opened its doors, Newmarket and Chester were already well-established. Ascot first staged racing in 1711, before the royal meeting was established in 1749, featuring four days of action on track. Traditions at the main festival of the flat season date back to 1825, as the Royal Procession was introduced to kick start every day.
Ascot plays host to one of the biggest races of the season in the form of the Gold Cup, with 13 of the 36 flat Group 1s staged at the venue. Meanwhile, the course is also a popular venue for jumps racing, with three Grade 1s staged at the track annually.
Of course, racing isn’t just popular in the United Kingdom, as there is a massive following in the United States. The oldest track in North America is Freehold Raceway, which opened its doors for the first time in the 1830s. However, it wasn’t officially open to the public until 1854. However, visitors to the track will be watching a different kind of racing action, as harness racing takes place throughout the year at Freehold.
The track has two meets per year, with the first running from New Year’s Day until May. The track then re-opens in September, with racing action taking place until December. Freehold’s standout race on the calendar is the Cane Pace, which has been staged since 1955. However, the race has moved away from Freehold in recent years, and is now staged at Meadowland Racetrack.