Aldershot is known as the home of the British Army, and that connection played a major part in the history of Tweseldown. Within a few years there were four regular meetings each year, and in 1892 it became home to the Royal Artillery meeting, hosting that event until its move to its current home at Sandown in 1921. There’s still a link to Tweseldown at that meeting, as the winning owner of the Royal Artillery Gold Cup Chase receives the Challenge Cup, which was first presented to the owner of a horse called Canonesse II, winner of the race in 1904.
Although racing under National Hunt Rules ceased in 1927, although the following year Tweseldown was one of the first tracks to stage the new Bona Fide Military Meetings, introduced specifically to enable army officers to take part in National Hunt racing. Many did so, amongst them “Roscoe” Harvey, who, after being involved in the capture of both Lord Haw Haw and Heinrich Himmler during the Second World War, took on the daunting task of Steward’s Secretary to the Jockey Club for 24 years.
During the post war era, many of the great and the good of racing have ridden winners over the point course, including two generations of Harwoods, (Guy and Amanda), Dick Hern, Ian Balding and Richard Dunwoody.
The track itself had similarities to Ludlow, in that the layout of hurdle and chase circuits differed, and the course crossed a public road in a couple of places. Unusually, the stands and parade ring were inside the chase circuit, and chases run over 3 miles started in a corner of the track behind the stands and out of the view of spectators there.
Now it’s fences are up for sale, because, says Steven Astaire, secretary of the Tweseldown Racing Club, “We simply cannot raise the £20,000 needed to renovate the fences and carry out essential groundwork.” The last refurbishment was carried out in 2005, when the parade ring was re-sited, and, along with parts of the course, set out with plastic railing from Ascot.
A variety of equestrian activity will continue there as it is a major centre for show jumping, cross country and Pony Club activities, and, said Astaire, “A return to economic prosperity could possibly see a resumption of racing one day.” Not for many years, I think.
Tweseldown’s particular place in the history of racing is that the first Sunday meeting with legal betting took place there in 1996.
It’s particularly ironic that the closure should be announced just a week after the end of the Olympics, as Tweseldown was the venue for the equestrian events at the 1948 Olympic Games, including the 33.5 kilometres of the three day event cross country course. Also taking place there was the Modern Pentathlon, wholly appropriate for a sport that had its foundations in military training.