Thursday 7 July 2022

Chester Racecourse

Why are horses sometimes called "gee gees"? Read on and find out.

Lots to see in Chester, of course, but how many visitors think of racing horses? The oldest race course still in operation in Britain and maybe even in the world is in Chester. It is consistently awarded the Gold Standard Award.

In Roman times, the river Dee was just about up to the Walls and the area of what is now the race course was an important harbour on the river, enabling supplies to be delivered to the garrison of Deva, the Roman name for Chester. Some harbour anchor stones can still be seen at the present course site.

Today you can see a large sandstone cross at the course. The story is that there used to be a wooden cross but it collapsed, causing the death of the wife of the Governor of Hawarden. The cross ended up in the river, floated upstream, and came to rest at the present site, on an island formed by the build up of silt in the centuries after the Romans left. Later the timber was replaced by the present sandstone.

The cross and site is now called The Roodie, based on ancient Norse and Saxon words meaning the Island of the Cross. In the early Middle Ages a weir system on the river caused much more silt so that the area became a riverside meadow, eventually developing into the present racecourse.

In 1539 the mayor of Chester was Henry Gee. He began the annual horse race on the Roodie, as part of his reformed civic celebrations. So you now know why horses are called "gee gees", commemorating the man who began the famous series of races. The first race was held on Shrove Tuesday. A silver bell was awarded to the winning owner of "the horse that ran before all others".

When the Derby race was inaugurated it was intended to be run in May but the Horse Racing Authority forced them to change the date to June to avoid a clash with Chester.

In the 19th century the race goers were referred to as "the most perfect mix of society from all over the British Isles". In 1817 the first grand stand was built but it burnt down on 28 September 1985.

While racing continued, a new grandstand was built and opened in May 1988.

In 1883, the first Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, bred Ormonde at Eaton Hall nearby. The horse won the Triple Crown in 1886.

In 1903 Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show appeared on the Roodie.

There have been three times when races were suspended - during the English Civil War, the Great War, and World War 2. In 1946, when racing re-commenced, a record 103,993 people attended.

The course averages 25,000 racegoers for each meeting, in the top five for annual attendance.

Nowadays the Roodie hosts 15 days of competitive and quality racing. In three days in May riders compete for the Chester Cup, the Chester Vase, Ormonde Stakes, Cheshire Oaks, and the Dee Stakes. Top racehorses from Britain, Ireland and sometimes France participate.

In 2012 the Olympic Torch came to the racecourse. Jockey Jason Maguire rode the winning horse with the torch down Watergate Street.

Visiting the Roodie makes for a good day out. There is no shortage of first class eatries. The glass-fronted 1539 restaurant and bar situated within the County Stand, open all year, overlooks the race course.

A second hospitality venue, The White Horse, in the racecourse paddock, opened in Easter 2014, with a bespoke nautical themed play area.

A third venue can be explored in the city centre. Commonhall St. Social gives a "fun vibe and eclectic industry-leading craft beer offering".

There is also an on-site hotel, ideal for weddings.

The Roodie is surounded by beautiful manicured lawns, a picturesque setting, in over thirty acres of breath-taking green space. Have I whetted your appetite? Why not attend on Ladies Day, for glamour, fashion and excitement as every one waits with baited breath to learn of the winner of the best dressed Lady Competition with its fabulous prize.

On 8 May 2022, Jackie Chambers 56, from Essex, won the prize for the best dressed. In a yellow Sophie Hunter dress and Steve Madden heels, she was awarded a Boodles diamond pendant and £700 fashion voucher from Matthew O'Brien,


Nancy Sanderson


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