ROTHBURY RACECOURSE

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Earliest meeting: April 1759
Final meeting: Saturday 10th April 1965
The Northumbrian town of Rothbury, on the River Coquet, is located 14 miles north west of Morpeth and 26 miles north north west of Newcastle. The earliest record of racing in the vicinity of the town was a three day meeting on Rothbury Haugh in April 1759 sponsored primarily by Lord Northumberland. Just a year later, on Monday 14th April 1760, a meeting was organised but only three horses were present. Races were held intermittently for the next century, seldom more than one day a year and often in conjunction with a town festival or fair. The first occasion racing received wider recognition was in 1869 when results were included in the Racing Calendar. The principal race was the Rothbury Hunt Cup over 2 ½ miles which went to Mr Dale’s Rebecca. The next year the Rothbury Hunt Cup went to Mr T Forster’s Cornustibij. The course, close to the River, was always prone to flooding, which was more of a problem when they only raced once a year and relied on the profit from that meeting. Furthermore, the course lacked basic facilities, including sufficient stabling for the horses. In the early 20th century the meetings were billed as ‘County of Northumberland Hunt meetings’, although this interchanged with ‘Rothbury races’ regulary. Racing ceased between 1915 and 1919 in line with the majority of courses, and again between 1939 and 1945, returning after the war had ended on Saturday 27th April 1946. The situation became dire in the early 1960s when racing was abandoned in consecutive years between 1962 and 1963 due to flooding, so it was no surprise when the course was listed amongst those which the Levy Board stated they would no longer support financially after 1966. In the end the final meeting was staged on Saturday 10th April 1965.

This racecourse is covered in Volume 1 of Racecourses Here Today and Gone Tomorrow. Ordering details shown below.
Local Patrons Lord Northumberland
Principal Races Rothbury Hunt Cup

Tuesday 28th April 1870
Rothbury Hunt Cup over 2 ½ miles
1. Cornustibij, bay mare owned by Mr T Forster
2. Primrose, brown mare owned by Mr G Turnbull
3. Independent, bay horse owned by Mr C Robson

The final meeting took place on Saturday 10th April 1965.
Course today Near the banks of the River Coquet.
If you have photos, postcards, racecards. badges, newspaper cuttings or book references about the old course, or can provide a photo of how the ground on which the old racecourse stood looks today, then email johnwslusar@gmail.com

Much of the information about this course has been found using internet research and is in the public domain. However, useful research sources have been:-

London Illustrated News

Racing Illustrated 1895-1899

The Sporting & Dramatic Illustrated

Northern Turf History Volumes 1-4 by J.Fairfax-Blakeborough

The Sporting Magazine

A Long Time Gone by Chris Pitt first published in 1996 ISBN 0 900599 89 8

Racing Calendars which were first published in 1727

ISBN 978-0-9957632-0-3

652 pages

774 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-1-0

352 pages

400 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-2-7

180 pages

140 former courses

ISBN 978-0-9957632-3-4

264 pages

235 former courses

Copies of the above books are only available by emailing johnwslusar@gmail.com stating your requirements, method of payment (cheque payable to W.Slusar) or Bank transfer, and the address where the book(s) should be sent.
ORDER FORM
Download an order form
  Quantity Cost
Volume 1 North of Hatfield £19.99 + £4 postage    
Volume 2 South of Hatfield £14.99 + £3 postage    
Volume 3 Wales & Scotland £9.99 + £3 postage    
Volume 4 Ireland £9.99 + £3 postage    
Volumes 1 - 4 £54.96 + £5 postage    
Postage & Packaging    
Total    
Email order form to johnwslusar@gmail.com

 

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  Solo Call circa 1950 The Callant circa 1950
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Very grateful thanks to Don Patterson for the 12 pictures that provide a panoramic view of one of the lovliest courses in England, including shots of Solo Call and The Callant, 2 Rothbury favourites from the Fifties. Clearly Don, and many others, have fond memories of the course and still miss it today. You only need to read the article from Albert Whiting, shown below, to know how much people valued the venue.

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The picture shows PENFAIR on his way to winning the Cragside Handicap Hurdle on 10th April 1954 when ridden by owner/trainer Alan C Batey. I am very grateful to his son David Batey for the scan of his father. Coincidentally, David read the article below and believes he may have owned a horse, Zamhareer, in partnership with Albert Whiting in 1995 which was trained by Wilf Storey at Consett.

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I am grateful to Alastair Turnbull who provided the racecard from the very last meeting at Rothbury which is shown below and some very fond memories of the course. He shares his memories below:-

I grew up on a farm in the Scottish Borders, about 7 miles from Kelso and adjacent to the farm where Sandy Thomson now trains. Most of the local farmers kept horses and were keen supporters of National Hunt racing and point to pointing. The Thomson family, for example, have a long tradition of success with the likes of Half Awake who won the 1968 Greenall Whitley at Haydock (now The Betfred Grand National Trial) for Sandy's father, David, who himself was also a leading point to point rider. Going further back, Sandy's grandfather bred MacMoffat who was runner up in both the 1939 and 1940 Grand Nationals (see http://www.greyhoundderby.com/GN1939.html and http://www.greyhoundderby.com/GN1940.html ) for further details and a video of each of these races. Another legendary chaser from the area who graduated from the point to point ranks was Freddie, who regularly was successful in his southern raids.  He had a particular liking for Sandown Park, where he won many big races, as well as being runner up in the 1965 and 1966 Grand Nationals (see http://www.greyhoundderby.com/GN1965.html and http://www.greyhoundderby.com/GN1966.html ). 

My family were all keen race goers and my grandfather in particular was a very astute and successful punter. Kelso and Hexham Races were unmissable,with Newcastle and Edinburgh (now Musselburgh) also being popular ports of call. Another favourite destination was Rothbury, which only raced on one day a  year and I remember going racing there 2/3 times as a child, including the last ever meeting on 10 April 1965. Coincidentally, this was also the date of the last ever meeting at Bogside when the Scottish Grand National was won by Brasher, ridden by Jimmy FitzGerald.

As you arrived at Rothbury racecourse, from the town, it was on the left hand side, on the banks of the River Coquet. The car park was on the right, on the valley slopes and after parking up you walked down, over the road and then over the river on a bridge onto the track.

As you would expect from a rural meeting in a county as beautiful as Northumberland, the setting was hard to beat, although the course split into two separate tracks in the back straight, a bit like Kelso but more exaggerated. 
The hurdle track stayed on the valley floor and was quite sharp. As I recall, the 2 mile hurdle start was in the home straight and the race involved just over two circuits of the track. Conversely, on the run away from the winning post and enclosures, the steeplechase track climbed onto the hillside and was substantially longer, as well as being a sterner test of stamina. It was just under 1 and a half miles in circumference. Strangely as well, the water jump was the middle of 3 fences in the home straight and was bypassed on the final circuit, although the horses then had to get back on track to jump the last.
On that last day there was reputedly a crowd of 3,000, which for some reason was below average and I have attached a copy of the racecard. 

The first race was won by a mare called Choice Archlesse, trained by Denys Smith and ridden by a then 7 lb claimer by the name of Brian Fletcher. It was early days in this trainer/jockey association which yielded many great successes, culminating in Grand National glory with Red Alligator. Brian was also of course the jockey who partnered Red Rum to his first two Grand National wins. And don't forget that Choice Archlesse was the dam of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Silver Buck.

The second race, a selling hurdle, was won  by Jack  Berry on the Denis Yeoman trained Royal Guard and the feature race, the Rothbury Cup, a hunter chase, was won by Mar Letoh.

The last race run at Rothbury was won by the favourite Golden Boy, ridden by John Blair.
I've driven past the course location a couple of times in the past 50 years and it hosts a very pleasant looking golf course (or some would say ‘curse’). But, unless you know differently, you would never recognise it as ever having been a racecourse. To me, and many like me, it is a distant and very enjoyable racing memory.

The first race was won by the 3/1 Choice Archlesse ridden by the then 7 lbs claimer Brian Fletcher. He later recorded 3 Grand National succeses, 2 on Red Rum and one on Red Alligator. The second race was won by Royal Gurad who was ridden by Jack Berry. On this day he was missing his famous red shirt, but later went on to become a highly successful trainer.

I am also indebted to Albert Whiting who has provided fond, and very personal memories of a meeting he loved and misses very much.

My memories of Rothbury Racecourse go back to the early 1950's - and what a day it was each year, if it survived flooding!. The scene was unchanged for a century!  Horses walking through the village, Kit Tully from The Railway Hotel struggling to get his equipment, bottles, kegs etc. into the bar tent on the course - the going was never better than heavy many times - and everyone keeping a weather eye out to assess the chances of the River Coquet overflowing its banks, resulting in the meeting having to be abandoned. Parking one's car was a major achievement in itself.  Straight up a hill at 45 degrees on a slippery turf - and even more excitement coming out!!!

 After a hearty lunch at the County Hotel (and what a lovely view of the course from the dining room windows!) and a gentle stroll over the footbridge across the river, you could be on the course in two minutes flat. Then the excitement started.   People came from far and near to experience the unique atmosphere of the course.   (The only slightly comparable experience now is at Cartmel Racecourse.)

 The Rothbury Cup was the big race and, towards the end of its life, Rothbury Racecourse staged a three horse race over 3 miles in which The Callant, a striking grey, frightened everyone off.  The Callant was well-known from many top grade racecourses in the country - having featured in several epic finishes in big races - and was owned by four local sporting men.

 A feature of the steeplechases at Rothbury was the dramatic downhill section with a sharp left turn at the bottom into the straight which was parallel to the river.  If the horse didn't quite make it the jockey needed to be a reasonably good swimmer!!  (That turn was wonderfully described by "gentleman" Gerry Scott being interviewed in the Sporting Life - shortly before that newspaper folded - as his least favourite racecourse because of !!!).

 Anyway, The Callant took the turn without problem well in the lead and proceeded to fall at the first fence in the straight.   By the time the jockey caught the horse the other two runners were a couple of fences clear - but, undeterred, The Callant set off in pursuit.  He was about two furlong behind with less than a circuit to go but was slowly but surely closing with each stride.  Up the steep hill away from the winning post, through the fields on the far side of the course and down the steep hill leading to the treacherous turn into the straight The Callant was eating into the other two runners' lead and everyone held their breath as he came to the first fence in the straight where he had fallen first time around.  Over he flew now only 20 lengths behind and the cheers could be heard down the entire length of the Coquet Valley. But, sadly, the run-in on the chase course at Rothbury was very short and the other two runners just managed to hang on.

 Several years later, the four owners of The Callant died in a short period of time and each had one of The Callant's mounted hooves buried with him.

 On the very last day of racing I managed to find two winners - one trained by Dick Curran for Kirby Overblow and the other Mar Letoh (Ram Hotel backwards).

 Now it is almost impossible to see where the racecourse was - like the railway station too, long gone.  All that motorists see now when driving from Rothbury to Thropton is the golf course.

 Gone, but never forgotten!

 

Celebrating the riding of a journeyman jockey, Frederick Walter Croney, throughout the 1925-26 season.