10th-13th March – The Festival, Cheltenham
The UK’s winter jump-racing season crescendos in the Cotswolds every March. Across four midweek days, Cheltenham hosts 28 races – half of them at the highest Grade 1 level. Daily attendances can touch 70,000 as the festivities culminate in Friday’s Gold Cup, whose rich history and £625k prize fund attracts the best racers from Britain, Ireland, France and beyond. Cheltenham was named the world’s greatest racecourse by the Racing Post last year and you can expect world-class entertainment for the price of your ticket. New for 2020, its Park area offers a different sort of festival vibe, with live music, DJ sets and street food.
2nd-4th April – Grand National Festival, Aintree
The Gold Cup has only one rival for the status of the UK’s biggest National Hunt race. First run in 1839, the Grand National at Aintree is the longest jumps race in the calendar – and the one with the most popular appeal. Up on Merseyside, crowds tend to surpass 70,000 for the three days of the festival. You’ll need to move fast to grab a ticket for this year’s race, but if you can’t be there in person, you won’t be alone: held on the Saturday, the National itself attracts a global TV audience of 600 million.
10th April – All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Lingfield Park
This Good Friday event marks the finale of the all-weather flat-racing season, which began more than 900 races ago way back in October. With prize money for its seven races totalling £1m, this is one of Europe’s richest race days. A smart-casual dress code and some comfortable hospitality options lend a sense of occasion to proceedings at Surrey’s Lingfield Park course, which is well set up for weekenders with its 116-room hotel and 18-hole golf course.
2nd-3rd May – Guineas Festival, Newmarket
A couple of hours by train from London, Newmarket hosts the first two ‘classics’ of the flat-racing season proper. The prize fund for each of the famous Suffolk course’s two headline races is £500k, but everyone’s in it for the prestige really. A win in either Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas or Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas races will redefine the careers of jockeys, horses and trainers alike. Punters can watch history unfold from the grandstand or splash on hospitality packages that can include champagne receptions and three-course meals from Albert Roux. Keep an eye on the ‘après racing’ entertainment too.
5th-6th June – Derby Festival, Epsom
This June event features two more of the UK’s five ‘classics’: the Oaks on Friday, which is also Ladies’ Day; then, on Saturday, the £1.5m Derby itself, considered by many to be the greatest flat race in the world. Attendance hits six figures across the two days, with ticket options running from £15 access to the family friendly Hillside Enclosure up to top-hat-and-tails hospitality in the Queen’s Stand.
16th-20th June – Royal Ascot
From the moment the Queen arrives in traditional style at precisely 2pm on the Tuesday to last orders at handily placed local nightclub Jagz on the Saturday night, Royal Ascot is an unmistakably British celebration. Throughout the festival, picking your outfit to match your surroundings is as important as picking the winners of its eight Group 1 races. The first day is for more serious race-goers; the second has a laid-back feel; the third is ladies’ day; Friday tends to attract the corporate crowd; then Saturday is more relaxed again.
3rd-4th July – Summer Festival, Sandown Park
The showpiece of this Surrey two-dayer is Saturday’s Group 1 Coral-Eclipse, with its £750k prize pot. Enjoy it from the grandstand or, as it’s high summer, the Picnic Enclosure does exactly what its name promises, amid bunting and picket fences. For something that involves a little less heavy lifting, there’s the laidback Legends and smarter Equus restaurants.
9th-11th July – July Festival, Newmarket
On the Friday and Saturday of the three-day July Festival at Newmarket, sponsor Moët & Chandon hosts a ‘White Party’ right next to the winning post. There are more formal dining options elsewhere around the course. Each evening, once the races are run, there is live music for all spectators as the ‘aprés racing’ celebrations kick in.
24th-25th July – King George Weekend, Ascot
The King George Weekend is a keynote celebration of the great British summer. Saturday’s main race is worth £1.2m and, though the event is less formal than Royal Ascot, ladies are still encouraged to wear hats. Visitors have three enclosures to choose from, as well as Ascot’s daunting array of hospitality options.
28th July-1st August – Goodwood Festival
For ‘Glorious Goodwood’, the Richmond Enclosure is the place to be: opposite the winning post and parade ring, its eating and drinking options include the Veuve Clicquot Champagne & Seafood Bar & Lawn. Families tend to spread picnics in the Lennox Enclosure, while the Gordon Enclosure is a sort of middle ground between the two. On the track, Saturday’s Stewards Cup – a six-furlong straight sprint – is not to be missed.
19th-22nd August – Ebor Festival, York
From Wednesday’s Group 1 Juddmonte International to the Ebor itself on Saturday, this four-dayer is the summer showpiece of Britain’s third-biggest racecourse. For parade-ring and winners-enclosure access, you want to be in the County Stand enclosure, with its champagne terrace. The Grandstand and Paddock Stand offer more relaxed viewing options.
17th October – British Champions Day, Ascot
The last day of the British flat-racing season is also one of the richest, with no fewer than four Group 1 races to sate racing purists. As ever at Ascot, the Parade Ring and On 5 restaurants will offer fine dining with spectacular views. Once the racing is done, the end-of-season party is worth hanging around for.