horse racing

   Horse racing in Britain takes place six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, and is in fact increasing with all-weather flat racing throughout the winter months and summer steeplechase meetings. In addition, recent changes to betting laws (revenue from which funds the prize money for races) has allowed racing to take place on Sundays. Horse racing enthusiasts are divided into two categories: those who follow flat racing, which takes place primarily during the summer, and those who support steeplechasing, most of which occurs during the winter months. The traditional seasons are arranged in this way as softer winter ground is less damaging for the steeplechase horses. Major meetings in the steeplechase calendar include the Newbury Autumn Meeting, at which time the Hennessey Gold Cup is run. This meeting is generally accepted as the starting point for top-class steeplechasers, whose calendar will include the Kempton Christmas Meeting for the King George, in preparation for the Cheltenham Festival Meeting and the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup, the winners of which are crowned as the leading steeplechase horses of the year. The three-day Grand National Meeting stages the most famous race in the calendar. This gruelling four and one-half mile marathon is the most watched annual sporting event in the world. The major flat racing meetings echo the days when horse racing was a pursuit of the idle rich, taking place as they do over four days during midweek. The Chester May Meeting with the Epsom Derby trial, and indeed the Epsom Derby Meeting in early June, play second fiddle to the splendour of Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York in August.
   The British racecourse is divided along traditional class lines, with the members’ enclosure being the most expensive to enter. Bookmakers are not allowed into the members’ area and instead hang their boards over the rails (a coveted position giving rise to the distinction between rails bookmakers and bookmakers in the ring or areas where any bookmaker may buy a pitch) between the members’ enclosure and Tattersalls, a less expensive enclosure housing the bookmakers themselves. The Silver Ring is the cheapest enclosure with the worst view, and is often at the centre of the course.
   Modern racing is far less rigid and classconscious than in the past, and efforts have been made towards a customer friendly approach. The night meetings under floodlights at Wolverhampton in particular are aimed towards a young audience.
   See also: betting shops
   Further reading
    Blunt, N. (1977) Horse Racing: An Inside Story, London: Hamlyn.
   JOHN E. CORNWELL

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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