In a piece previously published on the website about the 1952 fixture list – I have a liking for the random – I mentioned the defunct racecourse at Woore and promised myself I would look up where in the country the town or village is situated. I like to believe I know my country, especially where racecourses present and past are concerned. But Woore escaped me. Now I know. Not because I looked it up on a map but because in my small library of racing books I have the brilliant Chris Pitts ‘A Long Time Gone’, in which any revised edition will have to include Kempton Park as it seems despite all the hostility it has engendered the Jockey Club remain determined to close it.
In the 1952 fixture list the racecourse was named simply as Woore, though it seems its official name was Woore Hunt. Woore is a village in Shropshire, midway between Nantwich and Stone. There used to be a station close by and it was the closing of the branch line 1963 that helped signal the end of racing. Although the Levy Board announcing that it would be withdrawing financial support by 1966 and a dispute between the North Staffordshire Hunt who took umbrage when Woore was given a meeting on Easter Saturday that truly settled matters. The problem being that Easter Saturday was traditionally the day of the North Staffordshire point-to-point held on land close by, with the dispute escalating to Ealing Comedy proportions when to bring the matter to a conclusion the joint master of the North Staffordshire bought at auction the grandstand, press box, commentator’s box, 20 loose boxes, turnstiles, five plain fences, one open ditch, a water jump, runners and riders board – well everything a racecourse needs except the turf! The course itself was also the stuff of comedy, it seems. It was described in Chris Pitts’ book as like riding around the inside of a saucepan. Between the last two fences they galloped over a bridge. They were no running rails, only ropes and jockeys had to be careful of overhanging branches. But it was where Dick Francis, Brough Scott and Reg Hollinshead had their first rides, with Hollinshead training the last two winners at the track. Tim Brookshaw rode his first winner at Woore. So it played its part in racing history and for that it should never be forgotten.
Just for information, and again it is with reference to ‘A Long Time Gone’, I can add that Beaufort Hunt, a course that staged only one meeting a year, closed in 1956. It was situated near Malmesbury in Wiltshire, between the Bristol to Swindon railway line and Sherston village.
The West Norfolk Hunt is, as I suspected, now Fakenham and continues to prosper.
It is a sobering thought that since the end of the 2nd world war we have lost 16 racecourses, 17 when the bulldozers flatten Kempton Park. If you go through the entries in Chris Pitts’ book you will discover that prior to 1942 the courses that closed were country courses that perhaps only held a few meetings a year. Since 1942 we have lost Birmingham, Bogside, Hurst Park, Lewes, Lincoln, Manchester and Stockton, racecourses close to or in the centre of large populations where you might expect sporting venues to thrive. As is proved by the proposed sacrifice by the Jockey Club of Kempton Park no racecourse is truly safe. As we know we nearly lost Aintree in the seventies. Who is to say that in the future Epsom, York or Cheltenham might also be threatened?
Woore, I suspect, was no great loss, not in the great overview, though I personally would like to have Buckfastleigh, Rothbury and Wye returned to the fixture list. But I’m an old romantic with a fascination for the history of our sport. I would be a terrible custodian of the sport’s coffers. I would be campaigning for the building of racecourses, not the closing of what we already have!
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.