Chelmsford City Racecourse Guide

Merely months after opening its doors to the public for the first time in 2009, Chelmsford City Racecourse, then known as Great Leighs Racecourse, fell into administration. It was the first course built in Essex and with the county’s population of around 1.5 million it should have expected to do well. Nevertheless, despite the locals’ reputation for enjoying a drink and a good day out, it failed to get people through the gates. After this, there was much doubt cast over its future but the place hasn’t looked back following its return six years later.

Following BHA approval, the course reopened on January 11th in 2015, with an invited crowd of 800 people in attendance. With plans to improve and expand the existing facilities, there’s real hope that this time the racecourse can stick around for a much longer time with help from their new, ambitious owners. Since that invite-only affair, Chelmsford has hosted a number of meetings, with 50 taking place in the first year and each with a solid attendance.

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The Course

Chelmsford City Flat Course Diagram

As with tracks in America, Chelmsford also adopted to select an oval in shape for its Polytrack course. The broad sweeping turns around the left-handed one mile loop mean it’s effectively galloping in nature and an easily navigated track for virtually all horses. It is as unchallenging as it is immaculate too, making it one of the leading all-weather destinations in the country.

This wasn’t always the case at Chelmsford, however. Previously, the course suffered from quite a severe kickback issue that resulted in horses struggling to make progress from behind. Aware of the issue, ground staff underwent resurfacing work in 2015 and 2018, making significant improvements. There are plans to develop a high quality turf track at the site too and when complete it will be the first of its kind to also offer floodlighting.

Major Races

Chelmsford doesn’t host any races or meetings that are likely to feature in the front pages of the paper and can truly be classed as big events. However, the quality of racing at Chelmsford is certainly on the up and, in 2018, for the first time, the course hosted its first ever Listed race, the Queen Charlotte Stakes.

The female-only affair stands as one of the feature races of the season but the pick of the bunch is the more lucrative Chelmsford City Cup. Boasting a purse of £100,000 in 2018, the Class 2 contest became the richest all-weather contest to take place in the country.


Chelmsford Racecourse Aerial View
Aerial View of the racecourse when it was still known as Great Leighs in 2010 (terry joyce /

Back from the ashes, Chelmsford is going from strength to strength making it an increasingly popular racing destination. Given the relevant proximity to Newmarket - racing HQ - there’s no shortage of interested fans but the course also boats a wide catchment area without any other rival track.

Useful Info

Dress Code

Dressing up is encouraged (this is Essex, after all!) but there’s no obligation to don your finest suit or most dazzling hat. The only thing Chelmsford does ask is that racegoers avoid wearing flip flops, team shits, sports shorts, swimwear, and fancy dress deemed too inappropriate. Alternative dress codes may apply for feature days but this will be clearly indicated among the FAQs.

Ticket Prices

Booking early allows you to get the cheapest tickets to Chelmsford with early bird admission to the Grandstand & Paddock available for £15. Any bookings made within 24 hours of the raceday are subject to a £2 discount, reducing standard admission to £20. Concessions are eligible for reduced cost tickets but only when purchasing at the gate.

Various packages are available for each fixture, such as the Race Package (£36), which includes a tour of the facilities, a food and drink voucher and reserved table. For those after more to eat, there’s the family friendly Fairwood Restaurant offering 2-course (£37) and 3-course (£45) meals, as well as the adult-only Club Restaurant (£48.50). Prices are increased for feature meetings and those with evening concerts.


Season tickets are available for anyone wanting no-thrills unlimited access to Chelmsford Racecourse. For those after a more exclusive option, becoming a member comes with a whole host of additional perks. You’ll be able to bring one guest along with you to all of Chelmsford’s race days, plus you’ll receive an additional 16 passes to use throughout the year.

You and your guests can enjoy a spot in the Club Lounge area where complimentary refreshments will always be available. On top of this, members can also enjoy a pre-race tour of the facilities, priority booking in the restaurants, access to a concierge service and discounts on room hire. For prices you’ll need to contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Getting There

The course is well connected by road with excellent links to the A131, A120 and M11. If looking to travel by public transport, the two nearest train stations are at Braintee and Chelmsford itself. From either of these places, the no. 70 and no. 352 buses will take you to the racecourse. Alternativel,y taxis are available, with Yelo Taxis being the recommended provider.


Free parking is available to all racegoers at the main entrance off the A131 bypass on a first come first serve basis. The postcode for the main car park is CM3 1QP. Blue Badge holders can access the smaller car park nearest the Ticket Office.


Essex Showground
Essex County Showground (Brenda Howard /

After spotting a potential gap in the market, entrepreneur, John Holmes, and his son, Jonathan, poured money into Great Leighs Racecourse. In the late 1990s, they noticed that Essex had a huge population but no racecourse to speak of with Newmarket the closest at 50 miles away.

Essex County Showground

They purchased the Essex County showground in 1997 and after some delays construction got underway with a view to opening in 2006. A 10,000 capacity grandstand that had been used during the 2006 edition of the Ryder Cup was brought in but it became clear that the rest of the facilities were not up to scratch.

It wasn’t until 2008 that racing first took place at the course following a series of delays. Despite this, many early visitors complained that the facilities still appeared incomplete. Attendances numbers suffered as a result, forcing the course into administration.

Racing Put on Pause

As a result of this, in January 2009, Chelmsford also had its racing licence revoked, making it unable to bid for future races. Administrators made several attempts soon after to sell the site but all potential deals fell through. So desperate was the situation that the main creditors, RBS, looked into the possibility of using the site for an alternative purpose.


The outlook appeared bleak but some much needed good news came in 2013 as a syndicate headed by Betfred’s Fred Done successfully purchased the track. The course, now rebranded as Chelmsford City Racecourse, reopened on January 2015. Initially, it only secured 12 race days across 2015 but by the time the fixtures were published, the number had increased to a huge 58. During this first year of racing, the total attendance hit around 80,000 people.

A promising first year got even better as on 27th December, Channel 4 racing showed live action at Chelmsford, following the abandonment of racing at Chepstow. Months later, the course hosted the prestigious Greenham meeting after Newbury called off the original fixture.

Going from strength to strength, in 2018, the young track offered £5.2 million in prize money, as well as having the most valuable evening meeting ever on 20th June. Chelmsford continues to grow and with easy access from all areas of Essex and of course via London, it is certainly well worth a visit.