During a short break in the Yorkshire Dales, Me and Mrs K jumped at the opportunity of a trip to Catterick Races yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Their first recorded meeting was back in 1783, but it was a further 30 years before a permanent racecourse was created. The first stand was erected 1906 and in 1923 Catterick’s Racecourse Company was formed to aid the further development for punters, owners and trainers. Today much of the original framework is evident, though ongoing modernisation and improvement is clear to see.
People can be pretty ‘snooty’ when it comes to racecourses. There’s no doubting that the likes of Ascot, York and Cheltenham are all wonderful venues, with facilities in keeping with the quantity of racegoers they attract. Meetings are often prestigious in nature, with valuable races attracting the best horses, trained by the leading handlers.
But racing isn’t all about significant events and festivals. Racing is a hugely diverse business, and needs to cater for those at all points along its hierarchy. Catterick, like so many other smaller tracks, serve the rank and file within this wonderful thoroughbred industry. The entertainment gained, and rewards gleaned are no less thrilling for those involved, or indeed for the paying public, who quite clearly enjoyed every aspect yesterday.
Catterick has plenty in its favour. A dual-code racetrack, meetings take place throughout the calendar, indeed people can visit the North Yorkshire track every month of the year. Its size is also one of its strengths. The punters journey from parade ring, to on-course bookies, and on again to trackside action could not be easier. All aspects are just a stones-throw apart, and the ease with which a visitor can access all areas is probably taken for granted.
The set-up reminded me somewhat of Carlisle, though viewing the action is easier due to the nature of the course. Yes, there are undulations, but slight, and the tightness of Catterick ensures that the horses can be spotted throughout the contest.
There’s also an abundance of value-for-money refreshment outlets, whether it be of the three-course variety in the Winning Streak Restaurant, overlooking both the racecourse and the parade ring, or a tasty meal or snack in the Furlongs Café positioned alongside the parade ring. And there’s further options undercover in the Champions Bar and the Gods Solution Bar, both with views of the racecourse. Catterick make the race-day experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, without the huge hit on the wallet.
Another bonus of racing at Catterick is the locality. It’s easy enough to get to, sat alongside the A1, but also perched on the edge of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Richmond is within spitting distance, and is a smashing place to visit. Exit the A1 a short distance to the South and you find yourself heading West towards Leyburn and the wonderful Wensleydale area. Horse Racing Shangri-La can be found at the small market town of Middleham.
Thoroughbreds stream through the streets during the early hours, heading towards the gallops on nearby moors, sent on their way by more than a dozen local trainers.
Basing yourself at Middleham is the sensible option for any racing fan heading to Yorkshire. Not only do you have an abundance of local racing yards, but the area is home to numerous racecourses with meetings throughout the year. Catterick, Ripon, Thirsk, York, Sedgefield and Wetherby, are just a few sited along the A1.
And for those of us fortunate enough to head to Catterick yesterday, we were on hand to witness a small piece of history being made. Solo Saxophone became the first of the Frankel progeny to jump a hurdle. For much of the race his performance was less than thrilling, and at one point he traded at 99/1 on Betfair. However, turning for home he suddenly sprouted wings, storming past the opposition for a four-length success. The Skelton’s are going to have fun with this one.
There’s no doubting that Middleham is a delight, and I’m pleased to be able to confirm that though not quite as aesthetically pleasing, Catterick is also a treat, and well worth a visit.