Are all racecourses essentially the same?
At a superficial level, it can be argued that all pay-at-the-gate enclosed racecourses are fundamentally the same. They all consist of a long, wide track, surrounded by rails, which define the racing surface, with various starting points and a winning post, which marks the finishing point of each race.
However, Britain is blessed with 60 racecourses catering for horse racing on the flat, over jumps, or both and, while some of them are similar in certain respects, they all have their own unique characteristics. Most flat races, and all jump races, are run on turf, but six British racecourses – Chelmsford, Kempton, Lingfield, Newcastle, Southwell and Wolverhampton – cater for flat racing on synthetic, or ‘all-weather’ surfaces, known as Fibresand, Polytrack and Tapeta.
Even on turf courses, the overall shape and topology of the racing surface, the direction in which the horses run – that is, left-handed, or clockwise, or right-handed, or anti-clockwise – the length of the home straight and other characteristics often determine the type of horse that is most effective on the course. Some racecourses are completely flat, while others have pronounced undulations, uphill and downhill, and/or adverse cambers to throw horses off balance. Similarly, some racecourses have broad, sweeping turns, while others have tighter bends, or are constantly on the turn, favouring the agile, nimble type of horse. Of course, in jump racing, especially steeplechasing, the ‘stiffness’ of the fences – governed by the density of the birch cuttings from which they are made – is something else to consider.