2 Aug 2019

Understanding the history of Glorious Goodwood

Today’s grandstand at Goodwood Racecourse
There’s no doubt that Glorious Goodwood is one of the most historic and enjoyable racing festivals in the UK, hosting a glut of high-class horse racing action. The Sussex Downs plays host to a highly competitive string of races across five days. Typically, Glorious Goodwood is scheduled some six weeks after Royal Ascot, giving top-grade Group 1 horses a chance to recover in time to enter in some of Goodwood’s most prestigious races such as the Golden Mile and the Nassau Stakes. 

British horse racing tipsters are just as passionate about Goodwood as they are about some of the other major racing festivals throughout the year, such as Cheltenham. That’s because some of the most valuable and competitive races in European horse racing are on the cards here. Let’s take a closer look at the emergence of Glorious Goodwood and some of the cherished traditions that make it one of the premier meetings of the flat racing season. 

Racing in Goodwood dates back all the way to the early 19th century. Officers of the Sussex Militia used to host annual events at neighbouring Petworth Park. However, when the invitation for the annual races was not forthcoming in 1801, the nearby Duke of Richmond sought to create an alternative course for the Militia within the Goodwood Estate. So well-received was the two-day event hosted by the Duke that he sought to host a similar meeting over three days the following year. The first Goodwood grandstand was erected for the second year to house the event’s most exclusive guests. 

Goodwood’s facilities were quickly upgraded


The Goodwood Racecourse in the rolling hills of the Sussex Downs
The now-prestigious Goodwood Cup was soon established a decade later in 1812, offering a three-mile flat race that’s always been a gruelling test even for first-rate thoroughbreds. The fifth Duke of Richmond was arguably the driving force behind the rapid evolution of Goodwood as a legitimate racecourse. After severe injury forced him to retire from fox hunting, the Duke dedicated his life to improving the facilities at Goodwood, investing in a new grandstand fit for over 3,000 spectators in 1830. 

The fifth Duke of Richmond has also been revered for driving improved standards in the Jockey Club. The Duke introduced several measures that would eventually become commonplace on all other Jockey Club racecourses, including race numbers for each runner, fines for the course Clerk in the event of overrunning start times and flags for race starters. The Duke was even the mastermind behind the concept of the pre- and post-race parade rings. 

Some of today’s headline races at Goodwood were founded in the 19th century 

As the decades ticked by in the 19th century, some of today’s biggest races of Glorious Goodwood were established, such as the Molecomb Stakes, the Stewards’ Cup and the Nassau Stakes in 1833 and 1840 respectively. The Sussex Stakes became a race exclusively for three-year-old thoroughbreds in 1878 and it has been that way ever since. The appeal of Goodwood was enhanced during the years of World War II when no horse racing was scheduled. The post-war years saw the start of a real ‘boom’ era of racing at Goodwood. The Tuesday meeting of Goodwood’s 1955 festival drew a record 55,000 visitors to the course and more than 20,000 catching a glimpse of the action from Trundle Hill – these figures haven’t been surpassed even in the modern day of Glorious Goodwood. 

The festival was expanded in 1970 to become a full five-day event, including a Saturday brimming with races to try and entice locals and newcomers to horse racing at Goodwood. Just after the turn of the Millennium, Goodwood celebrated its 200th anniversary, maintaining its status as one of the most prestigious and historic race meetings in British horse racing. In 2014, Goodwood Racecourse confirmed a 10-year partnership with Qatar who have invested millions into improving and supporting Glorious Goodwood, although the name of the festival has now changed to the Qatar Goodwood Festival. The Group 1 Qatar Sussex Stakes is now one of the richest one-mile races on the planet, with a prize pool of £1 million up for grabs. There’s no doubt that Goodwood really is the definition of vintage British horse racing.

Photos: Peter Trimming