Horseracing is one of Britain's favorite spectator sports. While flat racing takes the visitor to the distance racecourses, hunt racing makes for breathtaking excitement as horses brave fences and hurdles. Here are three famous venues to visit if hunt racing is your passion.
Gloucestershire: Cheltenham Racecourse
Situated in picturesque Prestbury, the Cheltenham Racecourse is famous for its four-day March hunt-racing extravaganza simply known as "The Festival." The event is so popular that it is not uncommon for guests rub shoulders with about 230,000 horseracing fans over the four days.
Tickets start at £65 per day for the Club Enclosure; if you desire a spot in the famous Horseshoe Pavilion, the cost goes up to £366. If you are serious about your love for horseflesh and fanatical about the national hunt race, mark March 12 through March 15 as the time to visit Gloucestershire, in southwestern England.
If you're headed to Britain sooner, racing season opens on October 19 with "The Showcase" and continues through the winter.
Cheltenham also has a unique cross-country course, the only one of its kind in England, with obstacles such as ditches and fences.
Aintree is one of England's most famous horseracing venues. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)Merseyside: Aintree Racecourse
In April, the Aintree Racecourse becomes home away from home for an estimated 154,000 race fans. Starting on April 4 and continuing until April 6, the John Smith's Grand National is one of the world's most famous hunt racing events.
A venue and occasion to see and be seen, Ladies' Day is a favorite part of the event for anyone who values the pageantry of the sport. For the hardcore horseracing fan, it is the last day of the event, known as the Grand National Day, that offers the main attraction. The Grand National course is one of the more challenging in hunt racing, with horses jumping 30 fences over the 4.5-mile course.
Buy your tickets well in advance, since the most desirable spots — such as the Queen Mother Stand Seats — sell out quickly. If you are on a tight budget, opt for the Steeplechase Enclosure, which will only set you back £21. If money is no object, pay the £232 and secure your spot at the Winner's Bar.
Surrey: Kempton Park Racecourse
Kempton Park, 16 miles outside London, hosts flat race events through the summer months, but during the winter, it is also home to jump racing events including the famous King George VI Chase. Time your visit right to fall at the end of December, when this hunt race, part of the bigger William Hill Winter Festival, takes place. This year, it's scheduled for December 26 and 27. (Arrive just before Christmas and you might catch a reindeer race — yes, with real reindeer.)
Be patient and expect to queue up for ticket booths and attractions; this is one of England's busiest raceways, and you will have company of about 30,000 other race fans. Tickets start at £8, with a discount for ordering online via the website making it quite affordable, especially given the tracks' reputation for attracting "racing glitterati."
Find the racecourse on the A 308 highway between Hampton Court and Sunbury. If you anticipate imbibing alcohol, be sure to take the train; Kempton Park has its very own train station just 600 feet from the venue entrance.
by Sylvia Cochran
Top and right: Aintree is one of England's most famous horseracing venues. (Photo by Britain on View/Visit Britain)