The Racecourse at Chester is a totally unique venue which has the appearance of an spectacular amphitheater bordered by the original Roman City walls that circumnavigate Chester and the River Dee that made Chester a very significant trading town during Roman times. Chester Racecourse has a short racing season from May to September drawing many thousands of visitors to this magnificent city which is beautifully preserved and makes up an important part of British National heritage. The racecourse covers 65 acres of land on the ‘Roodee’ or Island of the Cross which was originally the harbor used by the Romans. When the River Dee became too silted to navigate with large vessels the Roodee was formed with the accumulated soil and became a large field used for grazing and for the violent ‘football’ game played there on Shrove Tuesday every year. From 1539 the football match was banned and replaced with horse racing with the approval of the Mayor Henry Gee and a race is run annually honoring him for this vital decision that has made racing in Chester such an important part of the cultural and economic life.
In 1609 a race day was added on St Georges Day with victors receiving the ‘Chester Bells’ that were attached to the horses Bridle. In 1766 a May Festival became an annual feature with several important races scheduled and a great deal of public interest across all the social classes. The Earl of Grosvenor sponsored a race where a solid gold cup was awarded each year and this race continues to this day with the cup now in silver. The first Grandstand was built in 1824 to give the gentry a separate viewing platform and further grandstands were added over time with a beautiful wooden grandstand destroyed by arson in 1985 but rebuilt.
There are many notable races run at Chester racecourse including the Chester Oaks, The Chester Cup, the Henry Gee Stakes and the Earl of Grosvenor Stakes. During the month of May there is a marvelous themed ‘Roman Day’ focusing on the origins of the city. The hospitality facilities at Chester are excellent with top class restaurants and bars providing refreshments and rounding off the wonderful day at the races for all the family.