I’m planning a short trip to Scotland with my mom in August and thinking about trying to catch an afternoon of racing. Looks like Musselburgh race course near Edinburgh has a “fixture” when we’ll be there. Has anyone ever been there or have advice on what to expect?
I stopped in there when I was in Scotland a few years ago, but not on a race day. It’s a beautiful spot.
Edinburgh itself is a fantastic city, with all manner of sightseeing and history for everybody under the sun.
I was just looking at the Facebook page for the racecourse the other day, and it looks like they only have something like six days of racing a year. I don’t quite understand how that works, but it seems like they make an effort to make a big deal out of each of those dates.
It also seemed weird to me because there were no horses on the property when I was there. The horses all just show up for the race dates and then leave again. Unlike in the US, where a lot of trainers have their operations set up long term at the tracks themselves. But I guess it works for the trainers over there.
I think it is that way for most of the tracks in the UK.
I believe so. It just seemed so quiet there by comparison to the tracks at home.
In August, it will be flat racing, all on turf. The programme will have races of variable length, short sprints and longer races, some on a straight, some round a curve. It isn’t a top rated course and has more of a local feel. However, racing is one of the few times Brits feel able to dress up, so one will see some fancy outfits along side more casual garb. As the weather is extremely variable, layers and waterproof as appropriate - even in August. There is a reason for our milk white Scottish skin!
Purchase tickets online to obtain better prices but one can also get tickets on the gate on the day. There is free car parking available at the course but there are also shuttle buses from the local train stations. There is always food and drink available, though it is a bit burger-basic, but one can take in a picnic. There are also hospitality packages available to buy that include entry, programme, food, reserved seating etc.
The horses are all handicapped (by weight) and grouped to ensure good racing by not especially fancy horses. The “race card” will contain all the information you need about the horses, it will have information about leading trainers and jockeys on that course, how to place a bet and will have a section explaining clearly how to find and read all the information. Because every UK course is unique and conditions are so variable, we don’t pay so much attention to times and fractions but the handicap rating should indicate ability. Some of the horses gain a following and people go to the races to see them run. In flat racing, these tend to be handicappers who run for many years.
Racing in the UK is a popular social activity and the race courses make it as much fun as possible. Betting isn’t the main objective, though “having a flutter”, with a bookie or on the TOTE, adds to the enjoyment. The real betting takes place off course. Families, work groups, hen parties, racing devotees, everyone is there so people watching is great fun.
At any racecourse, I always wander around a lot. I watch the saddling enclosure, where the trainers and staff prepare the horses. I watch the pre-parade ring and often miss out the main parade ring, before the race, to go and put some money on my pick (the TOTE accepts bets of less than £5). Then I go to watch the race from various view points, in the grandstand, on the rail, rarely on the TV screens. I like seeing the unsaddling ring too, where the horses are cooled and quick debriefing happens between jockeys and trainers. It is possible to get close to the horses in the various working rings, leaning on the rail as they walk past, earwigging the (wise) comments coming from your fellow racegoers!
There is a special atmosphere at race courses where everyone is in good humour, they are determined to enjoy themselves and are friendly. There is a lot of alcohol consumed but drunkenness is controlled by security and strongly discouraged.
Racing, basically, is a fun day out.
P.S. the horses travel in to the race course from the trainers yards scattered across the country. They don’t live at the track and if you go on a non-racing day, there is very little to see.
Thanks for all the information!
Do a lot of the tracks in the UK only have a handful of racing dates each year?
Does anything go on at the tracks in between the racing dates? Other activities of some kind?
All of them have a limited number of days racing over the season. But racing takes place somewhere every day of the year bar two. Musselburgh has both flat and jump so racing happens year round. The biggest meetings - such as Newmarket, York, Ascot, Cheltenham will happen over three or four days, a few times each year.
The horses are trained in specialist yards scattered across the countryside. Newmarket (aka H.Q.), Lambourn and Malton are particular centres and have a concentration of trainers in the town/village. The top training yards have every facility to look after and train the horses, with various tracks, terrain such as hills, walkers, pools, lights etc. Smaller trainer won’t have everything to hand but all will have good training gallops. The Jockey Club sets a ratio of four horses per stable lad or lass so racing is a major rural employer.
The race courses are also scattered across the country. With our small distances, it is easy to box a horse to the course for the day, more rarely overnight. There is a north-south divide with Northern trainers tending to race at Northern tracks and vice versa. Then it gets interesting. The horses are given an official handicap after their second race. The skill of the trainer, after getting the horse fit, is placing a horse at the right level and at the right track. Because each race course is unique and some run right, some left, some have long straights, some multiple curves, some are flat, some undulating, then the ground itself will vary according to weather conditions so can range from “fast” to “deep”, though it is unlikely that Goodwood would ever be heavy ground because it is set on chalk while Huntingdon can be heavy because sometimes is is literally flooded. So, given that horses have opinions too, some like to run left handed, some work best with a hill, some need the winning post to come up quickly on a short straight, and some horses just like a particular track. It is all part of a massive puzzle, one that engages the attention of several million people in Britain.
Then, add in the Irish and the French. There is still an agreement in place to permit free travel if race horses between the three nations. Important races will have international fields.
Other activities and events are held at racecourses from conferences and festivals to fairs and marathons and caravan clubs and any other idea that will make money.
Have a look at Phil Kirby Racing on Facebook to see regukat videos of the gallops, the stables, their breeding operation, training on the beach and even taking their horses over eventing cross country fences.
Also, have a look on line at Christian Williams Racing who trains in south Wales at the most scenic location one could ever imagine.
All very interesting, thanks!
I went to the races at Cheltenham years ago when I just happened to be in the vicinity on the right day. I saw a steeplechase horse that I would have loved to bring home with me, but he would not fit in my suitcase.
Excellent idea on many fronts.
25 days racing days in total at Musselburgh. Just checked the fixture list.
Huh. This is their Facebook post from the other day that made me think they only had six race days this year. Maybe these are the only six days with big races?
I think it is a very poorly worded marketing promotion. I was curious, that is why I looked up the fixture list.
I want to see the Corgi Derby. That would make the day.
It’s available on YouTube.
Thanks to everyone who chimed in! I’m hoping that we get there in August and will try to post pictures if we do!