My Local Racecourse - Pontefract

Features | 29th July 2022

There are few more popular and friendly courses than Pontefract

Coal Mining History

The race meetings have been well attended throughout history from as far back as 1648. The early races took place in meadows near Pontefract Castle. It was around that time that Oliver Cromwell’s troops seized the castle resulting in the racing suffering various interruptions over the next 150 years. 

No racing at all took place for more than 30 years until it was restarted in 1801. To fund the construction of the track’s first grandstand shortly after the reopening, members badges were sold for £50. 

Subscribers were given a silver ticket that allowed them access to race meetings for 20 years. When the races were in danger of ending in 1831 there was uproar. Some of the members threatened to dismantle the grandstand. 

Happily, racing continued. The course, situated to the north west of the West Yorkshire town, has staged racing ever since. Not even World War II could put a halt to the entertainment at Pontefract. 

The course was one of just two northern venues to continue to hold meetings throughout the conflict. Some big races like the Lincoln, Ebor and November Handicap were transferred to Pontefract for those years. 

Being right in the middle of coal mining territory made the sport hugely popular with the local workforce. Afternoon meetings traditionally started at 2.45pm – later than most courses – so miners at the nearby colliery could go to the races after their shifts finished. The timings remained in place right up until 2002 when the pit closed down.

A Long Way Round

Pontefract is Britain’s longest continuous circuit. 

It is roughly two miles round but that wasn’t always the case. Until the track was extended in 1983, the course was a mile-and-a-half in a horseshoe shape. It now hosts some of the longest Flat races and it offers a huge test of stamina as the final three furlongs is uphill to the winning post. Despite the stiff finish, the sprint races often favour frontrunners as there is a sharp bend two furlongs from home. 

The unique nature of the track often throws up course specialists. Mr Wolf recorded his eighth course win around a dozen years ago. More recently Mr Orange became a firm favourite with the Pontefract regulars when winning seven races at the track. 

The course hosts five Listed races. The Silver Tankard Stakes, restricted to two-year-olds, was won by Comic Strip in 2004. He was later sold to race in Hong Kong where his name was changed to Viva Pataca. He won multiple Group 1 races and was named Hong Kong Horse of the Year in 2009. He was champion stayer on four occasions and champion middle-distance horse three years in a row. 

The Pontefract Castle Stakes was twice won by Brown Panther. Owned and bred by former England football star Michael Owen, he went on to win both the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger. The other big races held at the track include the Flying Fillies’ Stakes, the Pomfret Stakes and the Pipalong Stakes.


A Great Place To Be

It is considered one of the best-run course in the country. 

Norman Gundill has been largely responsible for Pontefract’s success. He joined the track as managing director 47 years ago and is still one of the clerks of the course overseeing the action. Norman’s father and grandfather were both company directors of the course so his family is steeped in Pontefract Racecourse history. 

On a summer’s evening there really isn’t anywhere better racing fans in the area would rather be. That’s clear from the crowds that pack into the course to enjoy some wonderful sport that has been taking place at the venue for the best part of 600 years

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