There are some things in life which feel quintessentially British. Cheering on our sports teams – and then lamenting their inevitable failure is just one of them. Despite Britain’s reputation as a nation of plucky also-rans, there is one sport where the home nations excel. In fact we’re world renowned for it. Forget rowing, rugby or cycling – I’m talking about horse racing.
“Daddy, can I have a pony?”
Every father in the land has surely fielded this question from an expectant daughter: “Daddy, can I have a pony?” The answer is invariably a let down, accompanied by the observation that “Horses aren’t cheap!” While most children will never know how it feels to groom their own steed, there is a way to indulge their love of all things equestrian without breaking the bank. The answer? Treat them to a day at the races. For girls and boys alike, it’s a chance to get up close with some of the most majestic creatures nature can muster.
We’re not talking about teaching the kids how to have a flutter or dressing them up to the nines for Royal Ascot. These days the UK’s race courses cater to families with a range of child-friendly activities designed to keep the little ones happy (the kids, not the jockeys!). There are special ‘school holiday races’, concerts, behind the scenes days, face painting and even a chance for mums to take part in the “Flying Fillies” race (more on that later).
Whilst at the races, there are lots of things you can do to keep the kids entertained – Love the Races has several great suggestions. Try taking them down to the paddock to see the horses up close before a race. Then, you can all pick a winner and cheer them on in a family competition.
Gregg Taylor from Love the Races said: “A day at the races is a great family day out. From the very young to mum and dad, there’s something for everyone. There are hundreds of Family Fun Days across the country, so check out what your local racecourse has planned on our What’s On calendar for more information.”
Below I’ve picked out six great family-friendly races across the UK through August and September. Pack a picnic, look out your best hat and head off for a family day at the races!
1. School holiday raceday, Chepstow Racecourse (Wales)
Chepstow Photo: geograph.org.uk
Kick off the summer with the school holiday raceday at Chepstow on August 6th, one of their family-friendly race days. As well as all the fun of the track (including a flutter or two for the grown-ups), there will be plenty to keep little ones entertained. As a single enclosure event, you’ll have access to the whole facility for the day. Kids’ entertainment includes a bouncy castle, treasure hunt, colouring packs and a giveaway with free ice cream for 100 lucky souls!
Visitors who book in advance will be eligible for a welcome drink and a race card. Picnics are permitted and indeed encouraged; if the weather’s clement, pack a hamper and lay out a lavish spread.
Date: Wednesday 6th August.
Cost: £15 for adults, children under 17 go free.
Location: Chepstow, Monmothshire, Wales.
2. Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup, Ascot (Berkshire)
We’re going to head to the top end of the market with my second pick – it’s off to Ascot. The Dubai Duty Free Cup may not sound like a family-friendly day, but there are plenty of activities going on that will keep everyone entertained. Enjoy a day at the world’s number one jockey competition – an event that promises to be a little different from the norm.
Away from the track, there’s a free fairground that will keep you amused between races. The day finishes with a concert that promises a selection of family favourites coupled with some old classics.
Date: Saturday 9th August.
Cost: £25 – £45 per person, under 18s go free.
Location: Ascot, Berkshire. A 50-minute journey from London.
3. Best of British Sports day, Newmarket racecourse (Suffolk)
Photo: Christopher Brown
Newmarket’s Summer Saturdays are perfect for the family, with a plethora of fun activities which won’t break the bank. In the family enclosure you can try your hand at 9 hole crazy golf, the human football table (sounds a little odd) or even test your strength at a tug of war competition and rugby shoot out.
Aside from this there’s even a spot of horse racing to watch, with the feature race being the Grey Horse Handicap – only grey horses permitted in this one!
Date: Saturday 16th August.
Cost: £15 – £28.
Location: Newmarket, Suffolk.
4. Flying Fillies at Pontefract Racecourse (Yorkshire)
The Flying Fillies is Pontefract’s final family fun day of the summer season. After the Highfield Farm Stakes Flying Fillies race, it’s time for the ladies in attendance to don their running shoes, line up and take part in a fun race for the trophy!
For the kids there’ll be face painting, children;s rides, ice cream, activity packs and pony rides in the picnic enclosure. If you book in advance you can pick up either a family ticket or a BBQ ticket, both of which save against buying it on the day.
Date: Sunday 17th August.
Cost: £20 for a family ticket for two adults and children.
Location: Pontefract, Yorkshire.
Maintain the equestrian theme by staying in Pack Horse Stables in Hebden Bridge. You’ll have all the mod cons you could wish for plus a hot tub in which to relax after a day’s riding across the Yorkshire countryside.
Price: from £316 weekly
Sleeps: 3 (1 on a sofa bed)
5. National Youth Music Theatre Charity Raceday, Sandown, Surrey
This one won’t just keep budding equestrians happy – it’ll also delight aspiring thespians. Sandown racecourse’s summer season of performances comes to a close with a family fun day combining horseracing and theatre. There’ll be various activities throughout the day, the proceeds of which will go towards the national youth music charity which helps budding actors, dancers, writers, musicians, technicians, sound and lighting engineers, choreographers and set and costume designers. Phew!
Date: Saturday 30th August.
Cost: £13.50 – £37.
Location: Sandown Racecourse, Surrey.
6. Royal Regiment of Scotland, Family fun day, Musselburgh (Scotland)
Photo: Edinburgh Blog
The Royal Regiment of Scotland – with band in tow – returns to Musselburgh for a day of army-themed activities. There’ll also be a chance to meet their Shetland pony mascot. Family-friendly activities include an inflatable assault course, climbing wall and army displays plus free fairground rides for children. For adults there is the prospect of an exciting afternoon of flat racing on a fine course.
Date: 28th September.
Cost: Adult tickets £20 – £43.
Location: Musselburgh, Scotland.
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