My Local Racecourse - Salisbury

Features | 18th July 2022

Salisbury Racecourse has been helping shape some of racing’s greatest stars for hundreds of years


The pretty track – situated a few miles west of the medieval cathedral city – is one of the most historic courses in the country. 

Racing at the Wiltshire venue dates back to the middle of the 16th Century when its long association with Royalty first started. It was at one of the early race meetings, in 1588, that Queen Elizabeth I is thought to have dropped in to watch the racing on her way to visit famous explorer Sir Francis Drake. One of Salisbury’s early big races was the King’s Plate. 

Two of the most famous horses of the 18th century won the prize, awarded by King George I. Gimcrack landed the King’s Plate in 1768. A year later Eclipse was successful, although it was a walkover as he scared off the opposition. The same year he returned to Salisbury to win the City Silver Bowl. Eclipse retired with an unbeaten record of 18 wins and went on to become one of the most influential thoroughbred stallions. 

Sun Chariot was another racing great to grace Salisbury. She won at the course when still a two-year old in 1941 before landing the fillies’ Triple Crown of the 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger the following season. 

Derby winners Mill Reef and Sir Percy also won at the track as juveniles. Brigadier Gerard, rated the best horse of the 20th Century, was another legend of the turf to thrill the Salisbury crowds as a two year-old.

Springboard For Star Jockeys

It’s not just great horses who have made a name for themselves at the Wiltshire course. 

Lester Piggott had his first ride in a race on The Chase at Salisbury in 1948. A few months later he would partner the same horse to his first victory at Haydock Park. 

Salisbury was also the venue for the British debut of another of the world’s greatest riders. Racing fans and the sport’s press converged on the track in 1979 to see American teenager Steve Cauthen take his first ride since crossing the Atlantic. 

In a sign of things to come, his mount, Marquee Universal, won. The Kentucky Kid, as he became known to the racing public, went on to forge a powerful association with Sir Henry Cecil as the pair became the dominant force in Flat racing during the 1980s.

Relaxed Racing

Salisbury hosts two Group 3 races each season. The six-furlong Dick Poole Fillies’ Stakes, won in the past by subsequent Irish 1000 Guineas winner Crimplene, is for two-year-olds and is usually held in September each year. 

The Sovereign Stakes, run over a mile in August, is the track’s other Group 3 prize. The mile course at Salisbury is almost straight but there is a slight right-hand bend after a couple of furlongs. 

Longer distance races start with the horses racing the ‘wrong’ way up the home straight before racing around a loop bringing them back towards the winning post. The track climbs from some way out making it a fairly stiff course. 

Other notable races are the Upavon Fillies’ Stakes, the Cathedral Stakes and, in a nod to the nearby prehistoric monument, the Stonehenge Stakes. 

Colonist, owned by Winston Churchill, won the Upavon Stakes in 1949 and went on to win the Ribblesdale Stales at Royal Ascot in the former Prime Minister’s racing colours. 

Salisbury Racecourse, with its wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, has attracted Royalty, the greatest Britons and racing legends to this picturesque and truly historic course.

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