Known locally as the Roodee, a name referencing the small cross at the centre of its field, Chester Racecourse is officially recognised by Guinness World Records as being the oldest racecourse in the world still in operation. Horse racing in Chester can be dated back as far as the first half of the sixteenth century, with 1539 being the first year that an official race meet was first recorded.
The origins of the actual cross at the centre of the racecourse are uncertain, with some local legends indicating that it refers to a burial site of a statue that fell and killed the wife of a local landowner. Another version of events indicates that the stone obelisk is the base of a cross marking the boundary of the Benedictine Nunnery that was dissolved in 1540.
Being located on a natural bend of the River Dee and surrounding by the growing city of Chester, the land on which the Racecourse is now situated was once the site of a regular Shrove Tuesday football game. Due to the violence of the matches, it was banned in 1533, and was replaced six years later by an annual horse race. The first recorded race on the site was hosted with the consent from Mayor Henry Gee, whose name has now become a slang term for a horse, as many children around the world refer to them as “gee-gees”.
The racecourse itself is just over 1-mile in length, is flat and raced anti-clockwise. One of the key distinguishable features of Chester’s course is the very short straight, measuring just 239 yards. As a result of this feature horses that have a longer stride and usually do well on the straights are at a distinct disadvantage.
Chester Racecourse has two onsite restaurants, providing a range of food and beverages to the patrons. The White Horse, which opened in 2014, is a family-friendly gastropub providing a more lighthearted dining experience, with food and drink provided in a traditional pub setting, with a large play area that is extremely popular with younger children.
By contrast, the 1539 Restaurant and Bar opened a few years earlier, and has since gained a first-class reputation for its high-quality catering and environment. The beautiful glass-fronted restaurant is situated within the County Stand, overlooking the historic Racecourse and is open to the general public throughout the year, not just during race season.
Chester Racecourse is a regular fixture on the local social calendar through the months of May to September, as a venue it not only hosts top class racing but is also one of the key places “to be seen” in society.