The nights are drawing in and the winter winds are beginning to blow. While it is one of the best times of the year in Stratford-on-Avon as the Victorian Christmas Market comes to life and a festive glow falls on the town, there is a noticeable absence in the air: horse racing. At Stratford Racecourse there is a pause in proceedings over the winter months, with fixtures only resuming again in mid-March. Mark that date now – Monday March 11th.
Looking ahead to next Spring’s restart
People often ask what we do at the racecourse during the closed season. “I suppose you must be getting busy now,” they say as our first March fixture hoves into view. Certainly, the mid-winter period is one of some reflection on events past, but idle time is scarce. Creating a calendar of race fixtures, and delivering them is a full-time occupation!
The Spring is the same time that Jump racing around Britain generally comes into full view for folk who don’t follow racing on a daily basis, with some of the biggest festivals in the United Kingdom taking place in early spring. Indeed, the bulk of the year’s horse race bets are placed over this time as the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National fall within a month of each other.
To that end, all eyes will be on Corach Rambler who has been priced at 20/1 to defend the title he won at Aintree in mid-April. His first run this autumn proved him less than match-fit, but the key destination is Aintree, not Kelso in November, so trainer Lucinda Russell has left something to work on.
The Season is now in full swing
In fact, jump racing – which is often referred to as ‘National Hunt’ racing, accelerates throughout the festive season and only recedes to a specialist cadre of tracks – Stratford included – during the warmer summer months.
The reason for this is that the winter conditions make the ground softer which is more forgiving on horses as they land. And boy, has it rained already this autumn, allowing trainers like Venetia Williams, a traditionalist who needs mud on her riders’ breeches to run her horses, to get going earlier than usual.
This is why you’ll often hear terms used like heavy, soft, and good to soft when the surface is being described before a race in the colder months. This terminology is referred to as ‘the going’ and provides punters with a good idea of how the race might play out on account of the condition of the actual racecourse. In fact, ground conditions this autumn to date have been so dire that an abnormal number of fixtures have already hit the buffers.
Flat racing continues over the winter
Unlike jump racing, the majority of flat racing fixtures stop over the colder months as the neatly manicured turf needed for sprints is more susceptible to the winter elements. Essentially, this makes flat racing unsafe with frost and ice posing the biggest dangers to horses. The international calendar continues throughout for the elite, November having seen the Breeders’ Cup then Melbourne Cups, whilst February and March are dominated by high value races in Riyadh and Dubai.
A la prochaine
So there you have it, while lovers of horse racing certainly won’t be starved of action, Stratford Racecourse will fall silent over the next few months. However, that famous roar that echoes around Warwickshire will soon return as another season of thrilling racing at Stratford begins again on March 11th 2024, precursor to a breath-taking week at the sport’s spiritual home of Cheltenham.
We’ll see you back here in no time.