It is called the sport of kings and the glamor and prestige surrounding some of the biggest races on the calendar certainly warrant that nickname. Horseracing is enjoyed all over the world and the most well-known races transcend the sport to become cultural events.
Many of these races owe at least some of their popularity to their settings. As you will see from the racecourses profiled below, they don’t always have to be state-of-the-art cathedrals to horseracing. But where the race is run is sometimes just as important as the runners and riders themselves.
If you are in any way a fan of this “sport of kings” you may have an idea of where to bet on horse racing online – or a fairly good guess at worst. But we thought we would take time out to tell you all about where the most spectacular and incredible racecourses are around the world. Read on to discover seven of the very best.
Although we have said that not all the racecourses on our list are grand affairs, we are going to start off with one of the most impressive. Churchill Downs is the home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby and, with the infield accessible for the big race, it can cater for 170,000 spectators.
Opened in 1875, this one-mile dirt oval with a grass track on the inside has hosted the Breeders’ Cup on nine occasions and is home to seven Grade 1 events every single year. Louisville is on the bucket list of many horseracing fans and a trip to the first leg of the Triple Crown is an unforgettable experience.
If Churchill Downs is the most famous racecourse in the US, then Aintree probably just about takes that honor for the UK. The reason for that is mostly down to the Grand National. It is the race that the entire country stops for and is the most prominent steeplechase in the sport.
At two miles and two furlongs, the Grand National is a grueling race for the runners and riders as they leap the 16 fences, some of which are so famous that they have their own names. Aintree was opened back in 1829 and has hosted the Grand National since 1839 – as well as countless other big races.
Piazza del Campo
Now for something a little bit different. As the name implies, this racecourse is not a standard track at all, but the central piazza in Siena, Italy. But for two days in July and August each year, the Piazza del Campo is transformed into a spectacular venue for a horse race that has taken place since medieval times.
The Palio di Siena was actually first raced on buffalos but horses have been the preferred animal for centuries now, with riders representing ten of the 17 contrade, or city wards. The race is three circuits of the track, which only takes around 90 seconds to complete, and is avidly watched by spectators on all four sides and in the middle of the course.
On the first Tuesday of November each year, there is a race run in Australia that is said to stop the nation. The Melbourne Cup has been staged ever since 1840, when the city itself was a mere five years old, and the Flemington Racecourse is the spectacular venue for this most grand of occasions.
The course itself is pear-shaped and features a six-furlong straight, known as the Straight Six. Three grandstands cheer on the horses as they make their way around the famous circuit, meaning that over 120,000 spectators help make the Melbourne Cup one of the biggest races in the world.
Time for another racecourse that steps away from the norm. There definitely aren’t over 100,000 spectators cheering on the horses here. But that doesn’t make the races any less of a spectacle. St. Moritz may be more well-known for skiing – but the horse racing is fairly popular too.
The course here in Switzerland isn’t dirt or turf, by the way. The White Turf event, held over three days every year, is actually run on a frozen lake. As well as the more familiar types of races, the 35,000 spectators are also treated to one where competitors on skis are pulled behind unsaddled horses.
If the Piazza del Campo is a spectacular example of how racecourses looked back in medieval times, then the Meydan track in Dubai is the epitome of 21st-century design. The Middle East has become a big player in horse racing in recent times and the Meydan hosts the Dubai World Cup, which is the richest race in the world.
The one-mile oval track may not be particularly unique – and the 60,000-capacity grandstand may be smaller than some of the others profiled here – but where else can you stay in a trackside five-star hotel? There are also restaurants, a museum, and a nine-hole golf course in the complex.
For our final incredible racecourse, we return to the traditional. Located around 30 miles north of Paris, this track was created in 1832 and boasts a grandstand that was built around 45 years later and designed by the famed architect Pierre Jérôme Honoré Daumet.
The turf circuit passes in front of the grand Chateau de Chantilly and is tree-lined in parts. This is no exhibition racecourse though. There are a number of big races held here every year and in 2016 and 2017, Chantilly hosted the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe while its traditional home at nearby Longchamp was being refurbished.