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Racing Horses and Hearts: 8 Top Thoroughbred Tracks in Britain

Visit Britain

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British racing often involves turf tracks and close-in spectators. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Favoring turf or a synthetic all-weather surface, British flat racing events invite visitors to gamble on horses' speed and stamina. Horse racing is a popular sport in Britain, with families and groups of friends flocking to tracks.

It's an all-weather sport, and most tracks have covered grandstands to ensure crowds arrive no matter the weather. On the other hand, many allow spectators to watch from grassy areas and even bring picnics.

While horse racing tends to be a casual affair in the U.S., many top-tier British track enclosures have a dress code that asks visitors not to wear jeans, shorts or tennis shoes. Some spectators love to dress up and make a celebratory day of visiting the races, especially on ladies' days, with giant hats reminiscent of the famed Ascot.

If you do find yourself in the UK, where should you go to take in a thoroughbred race? Eight courses stand out.

North Yorkshire: Ripon Racecourse; Thirsk Racecourse

Colloquially known as "the garden," the Ripon Racecourse is on Boroughbridge Road in Ripon, the site of horse racing for 300 years. Check in with the concierge at 01765 530530 to verify race dates and times. Booking tickets via the concierge also saves you £1. Club stand seating prices range from £20 to £23, while paddock enclosure seating costs between £13 and £15. Youngsters under age 16 enter free. The six-furlong distance makes it a perfect venue for horses with superior stamina and long strides.

At the Thirsk Racecourse on Station Road in Thirsk, ticket sellers take calls at 01845 522276 for pre-booking. Children under 17 enter free. Single tickets range from £6 to £23. With a unique configuration of straight course and circuit, it can host races of varying lengths, some over a mile in distance. Most of the course is set against a backdrop of trees and rural views.

East Yorkshire: Beverley Racecourse

Known simply as the "racecourse on York Road," the Beverly Racecourse ends its season October 25. Ticket prices for the paddock and grandstand are £13, while premier enclosure seating costs between £22 and £25. Youngsters under 18 attend free. Reserve tickets by calling 01482 867488; gates open two hours prior to race time. Along with horse racing, the Beverley Racecourse & Events Centre also hosts parties and other events.

Bath: Bath Racecourse

The 19 race dates in 2012 wrap up later this month at the Bath Racecourse in Lansdown, with the next season starting in April. Depending on the type of the event and your choice of premier, grandstand or centre course seats, tickets range from £10 to £25. Admission is free for youngsters under age 16. Get seats near the finish line of this uphill venue. Even horses great at punting find this feature a challenge.

Cheshire: Chester Racecourse

In the heart of Chester, the Chester Racecourse excels at combining special events with the sport of horseracing. Order tickets online or by calling  01244 304610. Prices vary drastically; depending on the event and seating area, be prepared to spend between £8 and £44 for admission. An additional £15 buys a behind-the-scenes tour. The track's setup makes it impossible for horses to get into a comfortable gallop, since fast-paced curves tax jockeys and thoroughbreds alike.

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Patrons often dress up for races, as shown here at Epsom Downs. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Surrey: Epsom Downs

Home of the Coronation Cup, Epsom Derby and Epsom Oaks, Epsom Downs is near the Tattenham Corner Station in Epsom, not far from London. Call 0844 579 3004 or go to the website to reserve tickets and find out about pricing, which varies greatly by event and discount availabilities. Students may apply for a 50 percent discount. When there, keep a close eye on the Tattenham Corner, where the winning horses separate from the pack.

Sussex: Brighton Racecourse; Goodwood

The Brighton Racecourse is located on Freshfield Road; verify the schedule by going to the website or calling 01273 603580. This seaside track is an undulating, horseshoe-shaped course a mile and four furlongs long, and much of the track is an uphill climb. Premier seating costs £20 for a standard event and £25 for an August festival event. Grandstand and paddock seating costs £15 or £20.

Goodwood is located in the Chichester area of West Sussex. This is one horseracing venue to visit when dressing the part is just as important as placing the winning bets. This is the home of the "Goodwood style," which includes fashionable fascinators for ladies and waistcoats for men, as well as the kind of Panama hat that King Edward VII famously wore here more than 100 years ago.

Contact the ticket office at 1243 755055 or go to the track's comprehensive and informative website to buy tickets ranging in cost from £25 for the Richmond seating area to £18 for the Gordon enclosure. Since foggy weather conditions can affect the racing schedule, be sure to check ahead.

For more about tracks, rules and events in Britain, see the British Horseracing Authority website.

by Sylvia Cochran

Top: British racing often involves turf tracks and close-in spectators. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

Left: Patrons often dress up for races, as shown here at Epsom Downs. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)

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