Rugby's Lost Racecourse

The Rugby Hunt Steeplechase, March 23rd 1905. The jockey is probably J. Phillips, who suffered concussion after a fall on Prince Tuscan.
Baxter's Photo Series, Hinckley. Warwickshire County Record Office reference PH 352/53/1

The old Rugby racecourse lies next to the A5, just a couple of miles east of the town itself, at Clifton on Dunsmore. Racing took place there between 1862 and 1936, with every meeting bar one taking place over the jumps.

The course was left handed, with the finishing post towards the top of a hill, which gave spectators a reasonable view of the finish. For many years there was a stand between the track and the Roman Watling Street. This was set off at a 45% angle to the actual finish so that it truly overlooked the whole circuit. That’s long gone, but the jumps on the uphill stretch today gradually move away from the A5 road, following the course of the old track.

The National Hunt Steeplechase

Rugby was one of the first venues for the National Hunt Steeplechase, and the race was the main attraction when the track opened in 1862, in front of a crowd of 12,000 or so spectators. Like many races at the time, the National Hunt Steeplechase had a peripatetic existence, before finding its way to Cheltenham in 1911.

During the years between 1863 and 1880 Rugby hosted another wandering event, the Grand Military Meeting, on nine occasions. I can’t imagine anyone naming a horse Useless Brute these days, but that was the first ride in the Grand Military Gold Cup for Scots Guardsman Col George William “Curly” Knox. He ran accordingly. In subsequent years, though, Knox fared rather better and won the race three times, twice when it was run at Rugby.

Fred Archer

The single flat meeting took place on 14 August 1871, and almost inevitably, Fred Archer was there to ride a winner. He was just 14 years of age, and beat 14 rivals to win the seller on Gruelthorpe.

The course is roughly 12 furlongs round, and when it was built, had 11 jumps on each lap, a mixture of hurdles, thorn fences and two natural water jumps. The bottom end of the course has been taken out now, but you can still see the stream that was jumped on any map.

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