Top 5 Most Challenging Racecourses in the Jumps

The 2017/18 National Hunt season is in its formative stages and racing fans can look forward to months of thrilling action ahead of them. The likes of the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival and the King George VI Chase are among the highlights of the entire sporting calendar, let alone horseracing. But it is a long and gruelling season for runners, jockeys and trainers and it takes in some extremely challenging courses along the way. Here we rank the five most challenging jumps courses, in descending order:

5. Chepstow

It is difficult to whittle it down to just five courses out of the 42 on the National Hunt circuit, and the battle for fifth place was extremely tight. Newcastle, Doncaster, Bangor, Newbury and Wetherby are all difficult courses and had a strong chance of making this list, but Chepstow just about edges them. It is an extremely undulating course and very testing for runners. The long back and stiff home straight make it a real test of a horse’s stamina and going can be highly testing.

4. Ascot

Ascot is more famed for flat racing, particularly the pomp and glamour of the Royal Ascot festival, but its jumps racing is more for the purists. It is a difficult course due to the 73ft uphill climb, and it becomes a lot harder when fences are added. Ascot has large, sweeping turns and is a galloping course. If you get stuck at the back of a big field is it very difficult to break through on the sharp home straight on this triangular track.

3. Kempton

The home of the King George VI Chase is faces a grave threat at the moment after its owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, announced plans in January 2017 to close the track and sell it to housing developers. However, that sparked a ferocious outcry from the racing community, a petition to stop the bulldozers was launched and it seems as though Kempton has been given a stay of execution as no further news about the closure has emerged. Racing is still taking place on this historic and much-loved track, which stands as one of the most challenging National Hunt courses around. It is a quick course and horses need serious pace to claim victory on it, but it is also provides a stern jumping test, with the tight right hand turn providing a particularly difficult feature.

2. Cheltenham

Cheltenham is probably the most famous jumps racecourse in the world and its Festival each March is undoubtedly the highlight of the global racing calendar. It brings sporting pedigree, drama, excitement and glamour to the west of England and attracts the best and bravest horses in the world. There are two courses – the Old Course and the New Course – and both are very difficult. The New Course is slightly longer, with a difficult downhill fence, while the Old Course has a shorter run-in, but both are a real stamina test. Securing victory at Cheltenham is a magnificent achievement due to its undulations, difficult fences and steep finish.

1. Aintree

Aintree on Merseyside hosts the world’s most famous National Hunt race each April: the Grand National. It also has two courses – the Mildmay course and the Grand National course – and both are intriguing. Mildmay is used more frequently and it is a difficult course with sharp turns, but the Grand National course really steps it up several notches as it is far more resplendent and a lot more challenging. It is certainly the most difficult track in National Hunt racing. Check all today’s racing markets and you will find plenty of exciting races taking place on demanding courses, but none will come close to the Grand National. The fences are far bigger than those at Cheltenham and feature momentous drops. The most famous of the lot is Becher’s Brook, which is 5ft high and incorporates a 7ft drop, making it the toughest hurdle in the Grand National. Canal Turn is another notable fence due to the sharp 90-degree turn it imposes upon runners as they land, while The Chair and Water Jump are also notorious. In total contestants are forced to endure 30 jumps over a distance of more than four miles, making it the longest race in the National Hunt season, and many fail to complete it. This is not a race for the faint of heart, but winning it is a tremendous achievement on this hellacious course.

Author bio

Martin Green is an experienced horse racing correspondent and tipster.


Hereford Racecourse lies within the so named town, within the English county of Herefordshire. It is owned by the Herefordshire Council, and has its races televised on At The races.


The course was opened in in 1771. It was initially a flat-type track at the time, with the first jump race run in 1840. In 1883, it became a full time jump race course, and no further flat races were run at the course.

The track has been consistent in hosting events since its inception, except for the period of World War II when it took a break until 1946.

There have been several stand out events in the course’s history, most notable in 1975 when the races attracted so many racers that the races had to be split. 14 races were run on that day. In 2007, the first harness race was held at the course.

The course

The running circuit extends for around a mile and a half, right handed. It is generally flat, with a shape that can be described as a rough square. It is largely flat, with challenging sharp turns.

The course switched from thoroughbred to Arabian racing in 2012, after the Arena Racing Company failed to secure a land lease renewal from the Herefordshire Council.

Access to the course is by road, rail or air. The course is located five minutes’ from the Hereford train station, from where a taxi cab service is available.


There are fifteen race days on Hereford’s yearly calendar. 11 National Hunt races between January and March and again between October and Dcember (For 2017) Other race types include point to point runs, mainly for young horses that are yet to get into the big races. The North Herefordshire Hunt Point to Point is staged in May.

Martin Pipe as trainer and Tony Mc Coy as jockey would definitely have a soft spot for Hereford, having enjoyed immense success here.

Haydock Park

Haydock Park is located in the metropolitan county of Merseyside, North West England. It lies between the four towns of Newton-le-Willows, Golborne, Haydock and Ashton-in-Makerfield, which naturally gives it a good patronage from residents of these areas. Jockey Club Racecourses are the owners of the dual-type course.


The present day course has been operational since 1899, but the area of the park had been used for racing purposes even in the 1830s, after a break in the decade before. The memory of Queen of Trump’s win at Newton in 1936 is still widely talked about in the history of the Haydock.


Haydock Park is a dual race type track, with both flat and National Hunt courses. The flat course is around one mile and four furlongs in distance, mostly gentle gradient with a rise in one section. The National Hunt course is much trickier, as the tree-dotting nature of the park requires jockey to have good conversance and be totally alert.

Most areas of the oval course are left handed.

It is a relatively busy course with 32 race days annually. Its four grandstands alongside 33 private viewing suites make it a diverse choice course for the racegoer, a factor that has widely popularised the destination among patrons worldwide. Race goers are expected to maintain a smart casual dress code.


The dual-type nature of the course makes it a busy destination pretty much throughout the year. Races begin in January, but the first one to really light up the track is the Febraury Grand National trials. Competition then takes a two month break and resumes in May, running through to September. The Temple Stakes, Sprint Cup and the traditional Old Newton Cup are the highlights of this particular period.

Betfair chase and the Tommy Whittle chase close the calendar year in November and December, respectively.

Hamilton Park

hamilton parkHamilton Park racecourse is located in the town of Hamilton, within South Lanarkshire, Scotland. It is nine miles south of Glasgow City. It is owned and run by the Hamilton Park Trust, with races screening on Racing UK.


Horseracing in the town has been alive since 1782, so much that it is part of the Scottish culture. The current course was however not in existence before 1926, when the first race was run here.

The course has been known to be a place of firsts in many aspects of racing within the UK. In 1947, it hosted the first ever evening meeting, a trend that soon caught on within racing circles. Not one to stick to normalcy, Hamilton then went ahead to host the first morning meeting in 1971.

Hamilton faced the danger of closure going into the 1970s due to financial constraints, but was then taken over by The Trust in 1973 with a focus on improving its appearance and performance.

The course

Hamilton is a flat races track. It has a gentle gradient, with a lengthy run in of five furlongs that goes uphill at the finish.

The course is famed for its exquisite facilities, which are in constant upgrade thanks to the Trust’s policy of pumping all profits into the redevelopment of the venue. And these profits are not small amounts of money, at one time going up to £2.5 million. There is an ongoing upgrade plan in 2017 estimated to cost £ 800, 000 mostly to tweak the catering and restaurant facilities to suit the social race goer.

Access to the course is possible by road rail or air. It is well signposted on the surrounding roads. Hamilton West Train Station is only fifteen minutes’ walk from the course. Glasgow airport lies 21 miles away.


Races are run here between the months of May and October. The Glasgow Stakes, run over 1-mile six-furlongs 16 yards is the venue’s headline race. Other races include the Lanark Silver Bell and the Scottish Stewards’ cup. The Braveheart Stakes was run here but got discontinued in 2015.


Great Yarmouth

great yarmouthThe Great Yarmouth Racecourse, within the Norfolk County coastal town by the same name, is a flat racing track owned by Arena Racing. It is a track with unique forms that make it ideal to spot and develop particular strength in racing horses.

The Course

Great Yarmouth is left handed, forming out as a narrow oblong, with two long-stretch straight sections that allow horses to accelerate to top speeds. This helps in setting the competitors apart within the narrow track, and also gives a double chance for horses short-changed within the race to make up with an unhindered straight run.

The Premier and Grandstand & Paddock enclosures offer great entry points for patrons, as they give easy access to viewing areas and also public areas like bars, food courts, children play areas and the parade ring. Children accompanied by an adult gain free entrance. These entrances go directly from the free parking area, making it easy to roll in and out even with bulky items.


Great Yarmouth has been in the horseracing circles for a little over three centuries, since the Yarmouth Coorporation first leased the area to a group of horseracing innkeepers in 1715. The course remained a public area for many years, until 2001 when Northern Racing acquired majority ownership, later merging with Arena Racing in 2012.


There is no major race that calls this coastal course home, but events do come by regularly. Most notable is the mile-and-a-quarter long John Musker Fillies’ Stakes that happens in September. The races are marked by a lot of non-race social activity, which the course of operators have inducted to boost its popularity. Dubai Millenium, who debuted here in 1998, is arguably the greatest horse to have raced here in recent times.

There are wedding events here often. Flash photography and recordings of either personal or commercial use are not allowed in the racing areas.


goodwoodThe Goodwood is located in English Cathedral city of Chichester, within the West Sussex County in the South East. The course is owned by Goodwood Estate, which is connected to the family of the Duke of Richmond.



The track as been active for around two centuries, with a stark fondness for the term ‘Sport of Kings’ in reference to horse racing. The Third Duke of Richmond brought the sport to the ground for the leisure of the Sussex Militia around 1901.


Goodwood is a flat course type, with a unique straight stretch which serves as an advantageous section for horses with a good acceleration. The straight serves to measure the ability of horses purely on basis of speed. It also has a great right hand loop, where the skill of a jockey is put to real test. Onwards, there are uphill and downhill runs with several turns, all which work to make the track an exciting place to watch a combination of skills for both horses and riders.

From the Iron Age hill, patrons can be able to view the entire course, making the point a sort of grandstand. The only disadvantage is that the port point is subject to the foggy behaviour dictated by the ocean.

Goodwood also ropes in other experiences to blend with horseracing, with offers for shopping experiences, weddings, golf and great food available on their plate.


Goodwood is a notable ground in the flat racing calendar, being the home of the Goodwood Cup, Nassau Stakes and the Sussex Stakes. July and August are thus the busiest race periods in this track.

William Buick, Ryan Moore and Jack Rowley are popular jockeys here; they could almost ride a horse here with blindfolds!

Horse owner Khalid Abdullah has had good races for his horses at the Goodwoods, where his horses have won six of 20 runs. Godolphin, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and Hamdan Al Maktoum would also not complain about their luck at the ground.

Fontwell Park

Fontwell ParkFontwell Park racecourse is nestled in the Sussex countryside. The racecourse has been hosting horse races since 1924 and is now owned by ARC Racing. In Fontwell, West Sussex, the oval hurdles course has always spurred a lively atmosphere in the village of Fontwell.


The founder of the racecourse, Alfred Day, had come to train horses at The Hermitage. After acquiring enough land he opened the racecourse and named it Fontwell. Since the first meeting in May 1924, the racecourse has carved a reputation for itself as the Best Small Racecourse in the South East, a title it has held 12 years running. Fontwell Park is the course where Queen Elizabeth II, at the time still princess Elizabeth, won her first race as an owner in the Chichester Handicap Race in 1949.


Fontwell Park is also notable for hosting 5 of the 85 starts in which National Spirit went on to win. The most notable of his wins was the Rank Challenge Cup that he retained for 3 years consecutively. The hurdles race National Spirit has been hosted on Fontwell Park in his honour since 1965. The race has attracted many prominent names such as Comedy of Errors, Baracouda and most recently My Way de Solzen.

ARC Racing has made lots of improvements to the racecourse, including a new grandstand which shot up attendance numbers by 23%. The venue is also hosts other events when none of the 24 meetings in its calendar are on and has wonderful catering and enough space for all types of events.


There are a number of notable races such as Easter Extravaganza Raceday, St. Patrick’s Raceday and Ladies Evening which is a day filled with glamour, horse racing, live music, and of course the ladies.

The racecourse has an Annual Badge that goes for £230 and gives you access to all fixtures. The badge allows you incentives that come with a Premier Enclosure ticket plus free parking.

Ffos Las

Ffos Las Ffos Las racecourse is a dual-race type course owned by the Fos Las Ltd. It is located in Llaneli town within the county of Carmarthenshire, West Wales. Northern Racing is the company mandated to run the course, with races televised on At The races.


Ffos Las is absolutely new by the standards of racecourses, having only opened its doors in 2009. It came up as a sort of reclamation plan, taking the place Europe’s largest open cast coal mining after the colliery closed operations. It is surrounded by Carway and Trimsaran mining villages, with the culture of miners still evident in the area.

The first race run here was a national Hunt, with the event’s 10,000 tickets sold out. It was won by Plunkett, who started as second favorite. Plunkett was owned by Hywel Jones, trained by Evan Williams and ridden by Donal Fahy.

Flat racing first happened in July 2009-the Jamie Yeates Memorial Maiden Stakes. It was won by Dream Queen who was trained by Barry Hills and ridden by Michael Hallis.

The course

The name Ffos Las means ��Blue Ditch.’ The course sits on a 600 acre property, and is used for both flat and national Hunt racing. The young age of the course means it had the advantage of taking many lessons from older courses as it was built, resulting in a hybrid facility that can be compared to the best surfaces across Europe. The track is 60 meters in width, well drained and level for pretty much its entire length.


The course has hosted a varying number of races during its short span of existence as it continues to establish itself. It is still in the process of attracting big events and renowed horses, but is surely on its way there.

The 2017 calendar has 16 races scheduled. The Welsh champion Hurdle, a handicap grade jump race run over two miles, is arguably the Blue Ditch’s headline race.

Much of its racing is still in the planning stage, with a Celtic Festival intended for the period of St. David’s day. Equestrian events are also on the cards.


Fakenham Racecourse is located within the market town by the same name in Norfolk County, England. It is a jump races track owned by the Fakenham Courses Limited, and screened on At The races.


The first race run on the track was the West Norfolk Hunt on Easter Monday in 1905. The race was initially hosted by the East Winch; the decision to move it was informed by the thought that Fakenham’s lighter soil made it more suitable. A total of 37 participants took place in that first race, and it henceforth became an annual Easter event.

A hurdle race was then introduced in 1926 in the face of dwindling steeplechase racing.

Racing took a break during World War II, and resumed in 1947. Queen Elizabeth visited Fakenham in 2000, an unlucky year in which bad conditions caused the races to be stopped. The One million-pound worth ��’Prince of Wales stand” was opened by the man himself in 2002.

The course

Fakenham is left handed and gently undulating along its one-mile length. It is shaped like a distorted square, and has sharp turns with obstacles in close proximity at these bends. It has two courses, the traditional steeplechase and the hurdle. The steeplechase moves on the outside of the hunt, with a total of six fences within the circuit.

Within it are golf, tennis and squash playing facilities which were introduced in 1965 to serve the local community. No formal dress code is observed.

Rail is the least convenient way to get to the countryside course, as the nearest station lies 16.9 miles away. Road and air are however convenient, the latter via Norwich Airport or on site with prior arrangement.


There are nine meetings held at the course throughout the year. The Easter Monday Race has retained its appeal and is the headline of all National Hunt competitions held here. The Charity Day race is also a major attraction.


Exeter is a venue for thoroughbred horse racing located near Exeter, Devon, England. It is locally called Haldon Racecourse from its location which is at the peaks of the Haldon Hills.


The Exeter Course is located on the Haldon Hills. Initially, the course was described as “the two-mile fine oval course” before an additional one-mile course was created, stretching the length of the property to three miles. This was in the 1850s. At Exeter, one lap includes one water jump and several fences, some of which are dry ditches.


Due to Charles II’s love for the sport, Exeter is one of the several creations that came to be. In 1750, after the formation Jockey Club, rules governing horse races were standardised. In 2005, the Cheltenham Cup’s three times winner, Best Mate passed out and died after his jockey pulled up at the Exeter tracks. It is suspected that the course of his death was a heart attack.

By 2006, Haldon, Anstey, and Brockman were the main stands of the racecourse. Princess Royal, Anne opened the Haldon stand in 2004, while Lord Wyatt opened the Anstey in 1986. The perfect drainage and galloping nature of the course makes Exeter a public venue for novice chasers.


In 1833, Peter Hennis and John Jeffcott shot at each other over Hennis spreading rumours that Jeffcott had been cheating during a previous race at the venue. Hennis was wounded in the exchange and succumbed a week later; Jeffcott went into hiding in Sierra Leone. This was the last duel of that kind at the Exeter Racecourse.


Notable races

.The Gold Cup race which took place in 1807 where Charles Somerset’s won.

.Select races focusing on three-year-old thoroughbreds that had their origin in the West Country.

.Gold William Hill Cup Chase which was formerly known as the Gold HaldonCup. This race is usually held in November.

.Charity races in the course include Clydesdale Horses Jockey Riding, courtesy of Devon Ambulance Services in 2013 and 2014 the Dartmoor Ponies with the help of Research Cancer UK.