Pontefract Racecourse Guide

Pontefract Course
Pontefract Course (Richard Webb / geograph.org.uk)

Based in the historic West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract, you will find a small and fun-filled racecourse. With a great atmosphere almost guaranteed, Pontefract Racecourse is a place worthy of a day out.

There are 16 meetings held throughout the summer months including three evening fixtures with live music fixtures and a popular Ladies Day. In addition, there are three Family Sundays each year, which provide much entertainment for all the kids in attendance.

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The Course

The long two mile, undulating circuit at Pontefract often places a premium on stamina rather than speed. This is largely down to the last three furlongs which are, for the most part, uphill. This trying run-in can very easily catch horses and jockeys out who set off too early. Changing gradients are present throughout the course and as a result, Pontefract is considered a stiff test amongst jockeys.

In races up to six furlongs, be wary of the draw as there is certainly a bias at Pontefract. Those drawn on the inside have a significant advantage over those further across the track. During longer races, the draw is less important and jockeys can afford to be patient by the rail, waiting for their time to attack. When conditions are somewhat boggy, you may see horses directed to the outside as they can benefit from slightly firmer going by the stands.

Major Races

Pontefract hosts five Listed races during the season which offer a combined total of £220,000 in prize money. From the five, the Pontefract Castle Stakes is arguably the pick of the bunch. The one and a half mile contest was for many years open to all horses above four but now is strictly for fillies and mares.

Visiting

Pontefract Racecourse Grandstand
Pontefract Racecourse Grandstand (Dave Pickersgill / geograph.org.uk)

There’s a wide range of fixtures at Pontefract, many having a specific theme, so it’s good idea to look at the list of meetings to pick out your favourite.

Useful Info

Dress Code

A dress code only applies to racegoers who are in the Premier Enclosure. While a shirt and tie isn’t necessary there, smart casual attire is requested and this means no scruffy denim, sportswear, t-shirts, shorts or trainers.

Ticket Prices

Ticket prices at Pontefract depend on when they are booked. Tickets purchased before 16th January cost £8 in the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and £12 in the Premier Enclosure. Tickets bought before February 28th cost £11 and £17 respectively and any advanced tickets purchased after this date cost £14 and £22 respectively.

The only exception to this is the popular 80s Night, which costs between £10 and £16 in the Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure and between £17 and £24 in the Premier Enclosure. All advanced bookings carry a £2 booking fee.

On the day prices are as follows: £24 Premier Enclosure, £16 Grandstand & Paddock Enclosure, £7 Silver Enclosure, £5 Picnic Enclosure. On the day discounts of up to £5 are available for OAPs and Students, depending on which ticket they purchase. Accompanied children under 18 are admitted free.

Membership

Single annual badges at Pontefract are priced at £200. There is a long list of reciprocal fixtures members can attend as well as Yorkshire County Cricket matches and a VIP stable visit.

On top of this, annual badge holders will have access to a dedicated car park and be eligible for a range of discounts including £100 off private boxes and £10 off at the Park Suite Restaurant.

Getting There

With three train stations (Monkhill, Baghill and Tanshelf) based in Pontefract, getting the train to the course is a popular option. The closest of the three to the racecourse is Tanshelf but it is not the busiest.

Direct trains run from Monkhill to Leeds, while Baghill has links to both York and Sheffield. From either station the racecourse is walkable but taxis are available as are the 410 & 411 bus services which collect from the centre of town.

Parking

Parking is free unless you want a spot in the Picnic Enclosure which costs £15 per vehicle (maximum of 4 adult occupants). The price includes entry and a racecard and is great value.

History

Frost at Pontefract Racecourse
Frost at Pontefract Racecourse (derek dye / geograph.org.uk)

Evidence dates racing at Pontefract back to 1648 in the vicinity of Pontefract Castle. The evidence was a letter written by Captain Baines, part of Oliver Cromwell’s Batteries, who questioned if he should enter his brother’s mare in a race. Cromwell banned racing soon after but racing would make a return in the meadow by the town.

The Sport of Kings stopped in 1768 and although there was mention of a meet in 1790, other sources say it resumed in 1801, close to its current location. The following year, members’ badges were sold at £50 and entitled subscribers to 20 years of entry. The money raised helped the grandstand to be built.

A corner of the course was lost when a railway was built through it in 1846, the line officially opening three years later. Another three years later and a new committee was formed to take over control of racing at Pontefract. The committee was responsible for the building of a second stand, which opened on the 1st July 1879 and a new grandstand in 1919.

World War Impact

As with many tracks, the West Yorkshire course shut during WW1 but it would later be one of only two Northern courses who held racing during WW2, along with Stockton. Many races were transferred to Pontefract during the conflict, including the Ebor Handicap which was featured there in 1943 and 1944 as opposed to its regular home at York.

Alterations

In 1971, the course was once again forced to make alterations to make way for public infrastructure, this time due to the M62. 12 years later and an even more significant changed occurred as the track went from a horseshoe shape to a complete circuit measuring two miles and 125 yards, the longest continuous flat track in the country.

In recent decades money has gone towards improving the facilities at the course. A new watering system has been installed, the Silver Stand refurbished, the Dalby Stand opened and the weighing room, kitchen areas and paddock area have all been extended.

Expect fun, Yorkshire hospitality and modern facilities at this popular medium-sized venue. Yorkshire offers a grand total of nine courses and 180 days of racing and Pontefract is certainly worth a visit for lovers of the sport.