Perth celebrates 400 years of racing

Preparing Perth racecourse - 1908

Preparing Perth racecourse - 1908

Perth is Britain’s most northerly racecourse, so it’s hardly surprising that although it is a National Hunt course, racing only take place in the summer. Today sees the start of the 2013 season, 400 years from the first recorded meeting there.

Then, racing took place in South Inch Park, where there was a race for the Silver Bell. Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie was in the crowd in 1745, recruiting people for the Jacobite Rebellion.

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By the time Perth first appeared in the Racing Calendar in 1791 the course had crossed the city, but not the River Tay, to North Inch Park, where the Caledonian Hunt Club sponsored a five day meeting annually – with just one race a day. 1818 saw the first running of the Caledonian Gold Cup, a race still taking place today. The Gold Cup takes place at the June meeting, and now it seems to attract a different sponsor every year. The number of races had more than doubled, with two a day over a period of six days.

The racecourse crossed the river to today’s site at Scone Palace, where both Robert the Bruce and Macbeth were crowned, in 1908, and the meetings were much more akin to what we would recognise today. The Queen Mum went to Perth race sin 1977 as part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. I’m sure he had a good day out, but I rather think she wished she had been there the following year when Jonjo O’Neill overtook Ron Barry’s total of 125 winners in a season. He went on to ride 149 winners that season.

During this week’s three day Perth Festival racegoers can visit a mobile museum full of artefacts and memorabilia about racing in the city. Representatives who link together the past and the present will open it. Johnny Leech rode African Patrol in 1966 to win the first Scottish National run at Ayr and Lucy Alexander, first female professional jockey, will cut the ribbon.

Sam Morshead, general manager at the course said, “This is going to be very exciting. Looking through the archive material we can see that a lot of local families played a significant and important role in the long history that we have now uncovered. It will be great to have them and other local families who played their part recognised and remembered when we unveil this fascinating story to the public.”

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