Wales

The date 6 August is a significant one in the Welsh sporting calendar, for on that date in 1926 Chepstow Race Course was opened.

Situated at the bottom of the Wye Valley, it is one of just three race courses currently existing in Wales, the others being at Bangor-on-Dee in north Wales and Ffos Las just outside Llanelli.

There had been several racing venues in Wales during the 19th century, right across the country, and there had even been instances of race meetings being held close to the current Chepstow Course. But by the end of the First World War most of these courses had closed down and Welsh racing was in something of a parlous state.

Then, in 1925, a group of south Wales dignitaries and business men, headed by Courtney Morgan, first Viscount Tredegar, and Lord Queensborough, formed a company with the express purpose of changing that state of affairs.

At Piercefield House, just outside Chepstow in the Welsh Marches, the company found the land they needed and laid out a race track on the estate.

Cash was in short supply but the Company struggled on with the project. The first meeting – and the official opening of the course – took place on 6 August 1926, the first race being won by Lord Harewood's horse Conca D'Oro.

This first meeting lasted for two consecutive days but money was so tight that immediately after the races finished there was a real prospect of permanent closure.

A large loan from the bank – a loan guaranteed by Courtney Morgan and the other directors of the company - managed to stave off financial disaster. Even so, the financial situation remained difficult and over the next 10 years it took several loans from the directors to keep things going.

Chepstow had always been a course that provided both flat and jump racing. The first jump meeting took place in March 1927 and since then the course has offered a programme of flat racing in the summer, jumping in the winter.

National Hunt Racing is also an important part of the racing programme, as is the Welsh National which, from 1949 onwards, has been held at Chepstow between Christmas and New Year.

 

In the 1920s and 30s the prestigious Welsh Derby was regularly held at the course. In 1933 the famous champion jockey Gordon Richards won 11 consecutive races during one meeting. He was denied a 12th victory in the last of the races, being just edged into second place. It was still an amazing feat.

During the Second World War the race course was taken over by the RAF. An operational outpost of RAF St Athan, aircraft such as Wellington bombers and Hurricanes regularly landed and took off from a grass runway in the centre of Chepstow's race track. After the end of the war in 1945 racing at Chepstow was resumed and continues until the present day.

The Clay family, who bought Piercefield House in the 1860s, remain closely involved with the course which now runs nearly 30 meetings each year. The opening of the first Severn Bridge in 1966, finally allowing easy access from all parts of the country, was hugely important for the course which has now become an essential part of the British racing scene.

Chepstow Race Course may have had a tenuous beginning but it is now rightly regarded as the premier racing track in Wales.

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