Horse Racing Brighton

The history of Horse Racing in Brighton

Brighton and the surrounding area are a big draw for visitors from the UK and abroad. The city became fashionable in the 19th century, thanks to the interest taken by George IV, who commissioned John Nash to construct the Royal Pavilion as his seaside residence, and in doing so attracted droves of wealthy guests to the area.

In many ways, Brighton’s post-war popularity is a continuation of the Georgian fervour drummed up over a hundred years prior. Since Brighton & Hove gained city status in 2000, the region has become synonymous with creativity and individuality.

To trace the roots of horse racing in the area, a pastime with close links to the wealthy, you must travel back to 1783, the same year George IV would visit Brighton for the first time and stay with his uncle, Prince Henry, at Grove House.

Brighton Racecourse & the Georgian Era

There is documented evidence that horse racing meets were happening on the grounds where the racecourse would eventually be located from as early as 1713. However, the first competitions open to the public began in 1783.

At the time, the small meeting was called Brightelmstone but it has since grown into Brighton Racecourse, a modest but popular track with average prize funds of £26,000 per meet.

One aquatint created by Thomas Rowlandson in 1790 depicts the final leg of an excursion from London to Brighton, culminating in a horse race held in the Brighthelmstone grounds. The accompanying engraving describes a covered observation stand on one of the “most beautifully situated spots in the world”.

The original grandstand was built in 1788 and was, as Rowlandson attests, considered quite stylish for its time. Unfortunately, it was burned to the ground shortly after it was erected. An investigation concluded squatters who lived on the land were responsible for deliberately starting the blaze.

The prince himself would famously ride up to meets in a barouche carriage drawn by six grey steeds and bring his entourage of nobility with him. He ceased attending by 1816 and fashionable society followed suit.

Victorian Brighton

Following its prosperous regency origins, the course suffered some hard times with attendances. This all changed in 1850 when the newly built railway station provided easy access for throngs of London punters and helped bring about a change in fortunes for the racetrack. A new stand was built to manage this increase in foot traffic and shortly after the first Brighton Cup was held.

It was considered to be one of the finest sporting premises in the country throughout the late Victorian era and early 20th century.

Decades later in post-war Britain, it was not uncommon to see crowds of 20,000 amassing at the racecourse cheering on their backed horses from the two grandstands that now stood on either side of the home straight.

Brighton Racecourse Today

As Britons began to holiday abroad and the popularity of the traditional British seaside vacation dwindled, Brighton and its racecourse would again have to endure a trying period of financial difficulties. Many of the amenities became run down and they were not revived until 1998 when Northern Racing bought a controlling share of the grounds.

£4 million was spent on refurbishments and the track has since grown into a world-renowned racing facility on the south coast. Nowadays, an average of 15,000 people attend each meet.

The racecourse provides a top-class restaurant, friendly staff and an electric atmosphere on the grandstand created by local punters and day trippers to the course.

The racecourse itself is unique. It’s one of few courses in Britain that doesn’t have a complete circuit, instead it resembles a left-handed horseshoe, a length of one mile and four furlongs. The starting gates are the lowest point on the course and the track undulates uphill to the Winning Post which is at the highest point, making it a distinctive challenge for many jockeys.

Many would agree that this is the reason why there have been some horses that have been able to specialise at Brighton throughout the years. In August 2021, the A W Carroll trained Pour La Victoire achieved a record eleventh win at the course and the winner’s suite now bears his name in commemoration.

Brighton Festival marks the pinnacle of the current season at Brighton which culminates in the Brighton Mile Challenge Trophy Handicap (worth £9,540 to the winner in 2021).

As the venue expands its schedule to not only include world class racing but also unmissable live music events, the future looks decidedly bright for the racecourse and its patrons.

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