Doncaster is one of the oldest established centres for horse racing in Britain, with records of regular race meetings going back to the 16th century. In 1600 the corporation tried to put an end to the races because of the number of ruffians they attracted, but by 1614 it acknowledged failure and instead marked out a racecourse.
The earliest important race was the Doncaster Gold Cup, first run over Cantley Common in 1766, ten years before a move to the racecourse's present location. In 1776 Colonel Anthony St. Leger founded a race in which five horses ran. This race has remained in existence and become the world's oldest classic race. During the first world war the racecourse was used for military purposes and substitute races were run at Newmarket from 1915 to 1918.
Doncaster has the distinction of both starting and ending the flat season on turf. Every September, Doncaster hosts the prestigious four-day St. Leger Festival, which is acclaimed as the premier sporting occasion of the Autumn calender. Doncaster has also taken over events whose traditional homes have closed, such as the Lincoln in 1965.
More history was made at Doncaster in 1992 when it staged the first ever Sunday meeting on a British racecourse, a crowd of 23,000 turned up despite there being no betting.
Today, after more than four hundred years of racing, the St. Leger is undoubtedley still the highlight of Doncaster's year. Throughout the racing calendar there is a full programme of top class racing, with flat racing in the summer and jumping action all winter.
early leger Early running of the St Leger B&W Historical Jockey John Singleton with the first ever St Leger winner in 1776 Allabaculia
This Doncaster race has a long and varied history but is now a prime stop on the road to Aintree.
The Grimthorpe Chase, run here at Doncaster, has had a varied and intermittent history. Some years it dipped out of the programme book completely while at other times the distance of the race has been radically altered. However in the spirit of Charles Darwin, whose The Origin of Species is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary, the Grimthorpe which may once have been teetering on the edge of extinction has adapted to suit prevailing conditions evolving into a leading Grand National trial.
The eponymous Grimthorpe family have been involved in racing for many years. Ralph Beckett, the third Baron Grimthorpe owned Fragrant Mac, who won the 1952 Scottish Grand National, as well as Fortina who was victorious in the 1947 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Fortina went on to sire Fort Leney and Glencaraig Lady who emulated his feat at Prestbury Park. Christopher Beckett, the fourth Baron, was a member of the Jockey Club and director of Thirsk Racecourse.
Prior to the early 1980s the Grimthorpe was run over two miles and 150 yards, taking place on the same card as the Rossington Main Hurdle. The distance was then upped dramatically nearly doubling to a stamina testing four miles and 100 yards.
The 1987 renewal, over the longer trip, included the winners of the last three Scottish Nationals in the form of dual-winner Androma and Hardy Lad. The latter won the race however third-placed Little Polveir went on to win at Ayr, reversing the placings with Hardy Lad, and followed up two years later in the Grand National.
The distance was changed again to the current trip of three and a quarter miles in the 1990s when it was run as the Velka Pardubicka Grimthorpe Chase. This provided a tie-in with the famous race run in the Czech Republic (previously Bohemia) which is an exacting challenge over varied obstacles, including sections over ploughed fields. The Velka Parubicka course was based on the Grand National course of the 1880s inspired by the Aintree success of Bohemia-born Count Kinsky on his own Zoedene.