With its combination of thrilling equine prowess and glittering social events, flat racing has captivated the world for centuries. Vision explores seven iconic racecourses
Situated just six miles from Windsor Castle, the scenic track has been at the forefront of British racing since 1711. Turf-side exhilaration peaks in June during Royal Ascot, Britain’s most valuable race meeting. The world’s leading jockeys and their rides compete for prizes in a purse worth over US$8.2m in an event that is one of the highlights of the racing calendar. The five-day event kicks off at 2pm every day, with the royal procession led by HM Queen Elizabeth, a dedicated horse owner who has attended every Royal Meeting during her reign. Style is as important as success, and the Royal Enclosure imposes a strict dress code. Eating, drinking and socialising are pivotal to the event and the grandstand provides gourmet dining, although many racegoers still prefer the tradition of a champagne picnic in the car park.
In a word: Timeless
As both a state-of-the-art sports venue and a National Heritage site, Flemington Racecourse is one of Australia’s national treasures. It was first used as a racecourse in 1840 – when the city of Melbourne was just five years old – and has developed alongside the city to become one of the world’s most important sporting venues. With a US$45m grandstand and boasting spectacular views of the Melbourne skyline, the uniquely pear-shaped course is popular among locals and international visitors alike. It has an impressive 120,000 spectator capacity, and has been known to host over 400,000 horseracing fans within its grandstand, car parks and open spaces during the Melbourne Cup, which it has proudly hosted since 1861.
In a word: Exemplary
The opulent Meydan Racecourse has given flat racing a 21st- century update. Opened in 2010, the racetrack’s grandstand is the longest single structure in the world, with room to seat 80,000 spectators. The complex is over a mile long, with a racecourse that accommodates a 1,750m dirt track and a 2,400m turf track. It also boasts a museum, business conference centre and the world’s first five-star turf-side hotel, with 285 suites and seven restaurants that offer direct views of the racing. Horse racing began to grow in popularity in Dubai in the 80s, thanks to the love of equines held by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai – and is now one of the most popular sports in the emirate.
In a word: Lavish
The ultra high-tech Tokyo Racecourse has imbued the classic sport with a modern touch. Its 2007 grand opening ceremony – held after a seven-year renovation period – revealed an upgraded 2,156m turf course, a brand-new grandstand and the world’s largest video screen, which stands at just over 11m by 66m and allows up to 223,000 spectators to take in races from other venues. As well as spectacular Grade 1 events like the Japan Cup and the Tokyo Yūshun, a few lucky spectators can feast their eyes on views of Mount Fuji, from the Fuji View Stand reserved area.
In a word: Advanced
In the southern states of America stands the Churchill Downs racecourse. The track opened in 1875 with its first running of the Kentucky Derby – now the longest running sporting event in the US, and Churchill Downs is its proud and permanent home. From its humble origins, the grandstand has expanded both in size and reputation, and attracts crowds of up to 170,000. The stallion Secretariat, who won the Derby in 1973, was the first horse to have run the race in under two minutes, in a performance that is lauded to this day.
In a word: Legendary
The historic racecourse, most renowned for holding the popular Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, will reopen its newly renovated grounds in late 2017. It is a beloved cultural monument, which saw the emperor Napoléon III present at the inaugural races in 1857. The track – immortalised in the artworks of Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet – is actually four “interlaced” tracks with a challenging hill stretch that tests the speed, agility and stamina of horses. The course can host races of 1,000m to 4,000m, which can start from one of 46 different places. In recent years, French filly Trêve and her trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, captured the nation’s hearts by winning two consecutive Arcs – making them the most successful female duo ever to grace the track.
In a word: Elegant
Happy Valley Racecourse
Happy Valley, Hong Kong
It was the British who introduced flat racing to Hong Kong with the construction of the city’s very first racecourse in 1845. This metropolitan oasis is now overlooked by skyscrapers but was once a marshland filled with rice paddies. It was earmarked for a racecourse as it was the only flat ground on the island. Wednesday night is race night and locals flock to “Happy Wednesday”, which runs from September to July. Happy Valley is home to the wealthy Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of Hong Kong’s biggest taxpayers, and is an integral feature of this buzzing city.
In a word: Bustling