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Pontefract Racecourse

Published on: 01/11/2013

The city of Wakefield was historically built on its coal mining industry, though as the 20th century dawned, it was just as involved in glass and wool. During the 1980’s and 1990’s it had the highest unemployment rate in the whole country, though today its unemployment index is actually below average. Perhaps its main claim to fame it its racecourse: Pontefract. This can claim to be the single longest horse racing track in the whole of Europe. Located within Pontefract Park, an area of great rural beauty. The track measures more than two miles – greater than twice the size of many other courses like Plumpton in Sussex. It has always been popular with the public, in part because of its good transport links, being well served by road and rail. Pontefract Racecourse stages numerous flat racing events throughout its season from March to October.

The racecourse must have one of the longest and most detailed histories of any throughout the country. Thanks to the stronghold of Pontefract Castle, and its well preserved inventory of records, we have much information not just on the track in question, but all kinds of interesting early racing facts. The records tell us that the very first organized races were staged in the meadows near the town. Oliver Cromwell seized control of the castle in the 1640’s, and unfortunately due to civil instability, by the middle of the eighteenth century horse racing and been completely abandoned.

The inherent suitability of the local terrain for horse racing couldn’t be ignored for long however, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century the track was reopened. The Second World War made almost all racing events completely cease throughout the country. Amazingly Pontefract continued conducting races at an almost unabated pace. A large number of major events were staged there, including the November Handicap, and the Lincoln Handicap. These were both originally from Doncaster, the Lincoln being inaugurated in 1853, and the November in 1876. In 1952 the track was privileged to feature some of the world’s very first photo finishing equipment. Along with this claim to fame, Pontefract Racecourse has the perhaps dubious accolade of being the first track in England to carry out routine drug testing on its horses.

The second half of the 20th century saw a number of prestigious races being added to the inventory of Pontefract. Once of these was the Marathon Handicap Stakes – the country’s longest flat handicap race. This well known event covers a length of two miles and five and a half furlongs. In 1993 the Silver Tankard Stakes was inaugurated at Pontefract. This is a flat horse race at just over a mile, and is open for two year old thoroughbreds. The Pomfret Stakes, Pipalong Stakes, and Pontefract Castle Stakes are just three other races that were added to the catalogue of the track during the second half of the 20th century.

A great racecourse is not just made by great events being staged there however – it requires a good number of dedicated, professional trainers. Pontefract has been privileged to have had some of the best trainers in the country associated with it over the years. Mark Johnston is certainly one of these, a local man, living just 15 minutes away from the track. Another is Richard Fahey, who owns excellent stables in nearby Musley Bank.

Though it has much competition in amongst the nine courses of Yorkshire, Pontefract certainly stands out. Many would say it is the most popular racecourse in the north of England.

Published on: 01/11/2013 © Bet Bind