Chester is the oldest racecourse in the UK and possibly the world, the first recorded race was held on February 9th 1539. Over £10m has been invested in the course over recent years including the development of the Pavilion facility, Restaurant 1539 and Paddock redevelopment.
The average race day attendance for 2011 was 23,500, the highest attendance was 43,000 for the Sunday Funday event in August. Saturday race meetings bring an additional £1.2m tourism revenue for Chester in terms of hotel room bookings and spend in bars, restaurants and retail outlets. The racecourse employs approx. 85 full time staff and over 1,000 part-time on a race day.
In Roman times, the racecourse lay underneath water as a tidal pool of the River Dee. Part of a sandstone Roman quay wall survives below the medieval city walls and wooden jetties and wharves on the site would have seen trading ships from across the Roman Empire bringing cargoes of wine, spices and pottery to Chester.
The racecourse has been the venue for many exciting events – in 1441, rival gaolers from the Castle and Northgate gathered here for a mass fist fight and horse racing was introduced to replace the Goteddsday (Shrove Tuesday) football match, which was banned in 1533 for being too violent.
The first recorded race at the ‘Roodee Fields’ was held on February 9th 1539, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, with the consent of Chester’s Lord Mayor, Henry Gee (whose surname gave rise to the ‘gee-gees’ nick name for racehorses). Until 1609, there was an annual race on Shrove Tuesday, thereafter the race was held on St George’s Day (23 April). The Chester Goldsmith Company supplied a silver bell and in 1744 a gold cup was awarded annually by the Grosvenor family. In 1766, a May Festival was introduced, and in 1824, the Tradesmen’s Cup Race (the predecessor of the Chester Cup) was also introduced.
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