Date of Review: 25th July 2023
RCA Reviewers: Mr Shrewdy & The Doctor
Address: Occupation Lane, Rolleston, Nottinghamshire, NG25 0TS.
Phone: 01636 814481
Track Layout: (Image: courtesy of & acknowledged to At The Races)
All Weather Flat Course: (Image credited & acknowledged to At The Races)
Turf Jumps Course: (Image credited & acknowledged to At The Races)
Course Information: Both courses are considered to be tight, but also very fair, and somewhat of a specialist track under both codes. The all-weather course, (Tapeta since 2021 and previously Fibresand) is the outer of the two courses, left-handed in direction, oval-shaped, totally pan flat, and is 1 mile and 2 furlongs in distance. It has a 3-furlong straight, and an extension at the start to enable straight 5-furlong races, which is the second longest all-weather straight after Newcastle. It is considered by many to be the direct equivalent of a left-handed American racecourse. Races are normally run at a pace, so horses with stamina tend to do well here.
The turf jumps course is on the inner, the same oval shape and is a mile and a quarter in distance. Again, almost pan flat, with the bends having a slight camber. It is considered to be one of the most well-maintained turf courses in the country. The portable fences are stiff, and take some negotiating, and there is an emphasis on speed. It’s wise to be up with the pace, and not let the leaders get too far away. On soft or heavy ground, the longer distance races can become gruelling, resulting in a lot of horses not finishing. In the middle of both tracks is the front 9-holes of the golf course, with the back 9-holes being behind the golf club house, and to the right.
In 2019, Southwell was the first racecourse in the UK to have state-of-the art LED flood lighting installed, which means evening meetings can be run in the deepest winter. Due to the course being dual purpose, and the LED floodlights, it is a very busy course with around 50 fixtures per year being held here.
Racing at Southwell can be traced back to the 1840s, with racing taking place on Burgage Green in the centre of town. Due to its increased popularity, a new course was laid in 1886 alongside Kirklington Road. The current course was built in 1898 with a wooden 1,200-seater grandstand next to the Rolleston railway station. At the time, it was the first all-weather National Hunt course in Britain. It was closed during the Second World War, when it was used as a storage depot by the RAF.
The course was also closed in 2012, due to a major flood, when the all-weather track was washed away and the grandstand badly damaged, causing around £6 million of damage in total. The course was reopened in 2013. Since then, Southwell has established itself to become one of the UK’s premier all-weather racecourses.
Southwell Racecourse is inextricably linked to the top female jockey, Hayley Turner, who grew up in the area, with her first job being with a trainer based next to the track. Hayley became the first female jockey to ride 100 UK flat race winners during a calendar year and received an OBE in 2016 for her services to horse racing.
Southwell is also famous in horse racing circles for the 2019 “Drone Controversy” when a number of drones were spotted flying over the racecourse and broadcasting the racing live on the Internet. This was a problem as the drone footage can be approximately two seconds faster than that of TV broadcasters, therefore giving punters a significant advantage when betting “in running”.
As we very much like a little bit of trivia here at Racecourse Advisor, how about this: The Bramley cooking apple was first seeded in Southwell by Mary Ann Brailsford in 1809. The local Southwell football team are nicknamed the Bramley’s and there is a local community newspaper also named The Bramley. The locals class Southwell as a city, as it has an Anglican Cathedral which is over 900 years old. A visit is highly recommended if you are going to the racing at Southwell. The town centre also has 13 pubs within its vicinity, which is another very good reason to visit
The Racecourse Advisor Guide to Southwell Racecourse:
From the M1 south: Exit the M1 at Junction 21A and take the A46 towards Newark. At the junction with the B6166 take the first exit still on the A46. At the next roundabout, take the first exit onto the A617 towards Mansfield and Southwell. On approaching Southwell, turn left onto Racecourse Lane and drive for 2 miles. For sat-navs, use the postcode: NG25 0QB, which is different to the postal address. The drive after leaving the M1 takes approximately 40-45 minutes.
From the A1: Continue on the A1 to the Newark junction with the A46. Take the A46 signposted Nottingham. At the roundabout, take the third exit onto the A617 towards Mansfield and Southwell. Turn left onto the A612 signposted Southwell. On approaching Southwell turn left onto Racecourse Lane and drive for 2 miles. Note: Due to local authority restrictions, Occupation Lane and Station Road in Rolleston cannot be used as a means of access for Sunday and all Floodlight race meetings, so please follow the yellow diversion signs.
Southwell has a railway station adjacent to the course, named Rolleston. It is then only a 250 yard walk to the main entrance. Newark Station, which is on the Nottingham to Lincoln line, is a 9-mile journey to the racecourse, so further transport is required. On racedays additional train services run calling at Rolleston, in line with the first and last race times,
By Air: The nearest airport to the racecourse is East Midlands Airport, which is approximately 33 miles away and around a one-hour drive. Rating: 7/10.
Parking: Car parking on “Car Park B” next to the Premier Enclosure is excellent. Immediately outside the main entrance. Couldn’t be better. Car Park A is located on the other side of the course and is also very well located. Rating: 10/10.
Pricing: On the day of our visit, tickets into the Grandstand were priced at £13.00 for a six-race fixture. This gives you access to all areas of the racecourse. If you book six or more tickets in advance, then there is £2.00 per person discount to be had. However, as always with Arena Racing courses, be aware of the £3.00 “Fulfilment Fee” per each booking. As it was a midweek afternoon meeting, no hospitality upgrades were available. However, at bigger meetings there is a “A Day at the Races” package for £20.50 per person, which gives you course access into the Grandstand, a racecard, a welcome drink (beer, wine or soft drink) and a Pie. These need to be booked seven days in advance and there is limited availability.
If you want to go up a notch, then the Minster Suite Package at £40.00 per person is for you. This gets you into the first floor of the Grandstand, a racecard, seating and a meal of traditional fish & chips. This must be booked at least 3 days in advance. Then there is the Seasons Restaurant within the Minster Suite, which has trackside views and also overlooks the parade ring. Here you will get a private table, three-course meal, bars and betting facilities and a racecard is in the deal also. This costs circa £79.00 per person, depending on the fixture. In our opinion, overall, it is pretty good VFM (Value for Money).
In what is becoming a recurring theme in our racecourse visits, the racecard, sadly, disappointed. It is getting to the point of asking the question, why bother? Is it worth it for the racegoer? We also ask, is it worth it for the racecourse to produce and publish a card for each and every meeting?
Is it the number of meetings per year that diminishes the desire to produce a quality informational racecard? Occasionally, we do come across a really good racecard, and it does make a difference. However, for your £3.50, you get 24 pages with no course map, no track layout, and no additional information, but you do get 11 full pages of advertisements (46% of the total card). Rating: 9/10.
Catering: As it was a Tuesday afternoon fixture, not all the catering concessions were open, which is understandable. All the food outlets are situated in the main food hall, situated on the ground floor of the main grandstand. This is a large area, with plenty of tables & chairs and comfy seating. Inside, there was a dedicated fish & chip shop, which is always welcomed. A portion of fish & chips can be had for £9.95. Jumbo sausage & chips for £8.50, steak pie & chips for £7.50, while a portion of chips with a side (peas, gravy or curry sauce) for £5.00. We did see one punter take Umbridge at being charged £1.50 for a portion of gravy, however, after some discussion an amicable conclusion was eventually reached.
At the Carvery food concession there was a pie, mash & peas for £8.50. An individual steak pie for £5.50 and a rather large sausage roll for £5.00. We did have a bit of a problem finding out the prices here, as there was no menu card on view at the counter, after asking the question and some investigation by the staff it was eventually produced.
Some of the food & drink options - Southwell
Also, on sale was a Tiffin salad box for £4.50. At the Sherwood concession, they had tea at £2.50 per cup. An Americano or normal coffee for £2.80, or cappuccino or hot chocolate for £2.90. Muffins, cookies and brownies for £2.70 and a packet of crisps for £1.50 Overall, realistic and sensible food prices we feel. We didn’t spot any outside burger or “street food” vans, but we did spot, close to the parade ring, a traditional sweet shop selling all manner of things including bottled water at £2.60 a bottle and other soft drinks for £3.00.
There was also a Mr Whippy ice cream van, which is always good, and both of these concessions did actually take cash, which is a welcome change from the now de facto “cashless society” in which we live.
Towards the end of the day, the queues for tea & coffees at the main food area were not inconsiderable. We counted around 25 people at one stage, with one girl working like a dervish at the counter. To be fair, we were informed that the dedicated coffee shop next to the food counter, had planned to be opened on the day, but couldn’t be, due to staffing issues. So, some mitigating circumstances need to be taken into consideration, we feel. Rating: 6/10.
Guinness Standard: A pint of draught Guinness will cost you £6.30 with a £0.50p surcharge for a reusable, recyclable pint pot. So, if only one pint is purchased, the cost is £6.80. However, it really was an excellent pint of Guinness. One of the best we have had on a racecourse. Rating: 8/10.
Viewing: The viewing from the main grandstand is more than acceptable, and there is plenty of it. Effectively, there are two stands joined as one, separated by “the tower” which houses the Commentators and the Photo finish judges. The main grandstand has plenty of concrete terraced, viewing, with around 17 or 18 steps from the bottom to the top. Notably, there were no seating areas that we could spot. The viewing for the hospitality areas is then immediately behind. The grandstand roof is more than plentiful, so no issue with cover or shelter, if required.
On the left-hand side, (looking out to the course) of the entrance into the grandstand and level with the tower is a large continuation of the stand, which is opened and used at busier fixtures. This stand is huge and runs down to at least the furlong pole. So plentiful viewing space all round. In front of the main grandstand on the concourse, there are a number of trestle-style wooden tables and chairs just in front of the main bookmaker’s pitch. Just beyond this and towards the track is an immaculately kept turfed area, which has a number of plastic picnic tables and chairs also.
The Viewing Experience - Southwell
So overall, the facilities are good. All of the lawned areas on the racecourse have been cared for and treated for weeds and look absolutely superb. This is a massive compliment to the ground staff. You would genuinely be pleased if your lawn at home looked that good.
On the turf, jumps course, you can see the horses for around 70% of the race duration. Some viewing is restricted around the back straight and final turn, due to the trees on the golf course, which is situated in the centre of both courses. We assume, that in the future, the tree height will be a delicate balance between the racing and the golf course.
Viewing for the all-weather course, will be better, as it is the outer course and therefore closer to the stand. This also means that the trees wouldn’t be as much of an obstruction. There is a large TV screen situated just before the winning post. One thing we did like, and we have not seen before, is that the main grandstand viewing area has three TV monitors situated at equal distance from each other in the roof area of the stands, which does add to the overall viewing experience. Rating: 7/10.
Parade Ring / Winners Enclosure: Is situated behind the grandstand. The parade ring is excellent. It is large and enclosed by a neatly trimmed Box Hedge around the perimeter and surrounded by a lot of very well-kept and manicured lawns and grassy areas. In the centre of the ring and to the right, are three large Poplar trees, which adds even more greenery. Full access around the whole parade ring is possible.
Viewing facilities are very good regardless of where you are situated. Elevated viewing is also possible at the back of the ring, and disabled access is supplied to the left of it. The pre-parade ring is situated to the left, where once again, viewing is very good. Unfortunately, the area is slightly let down by the winner’s enclosure which is separate to the parade ring and to its left, just off the racecourse itself, and immediately outside the weighing room. Whilst the viewing here, once again, is good, it is more a “functional” rubber matted area, than the parade ring and nowhere near as pretty or attractive. For this reason, we have deducted one point from our rating. Rating: 8/10.
Bookmakers / Betting Facilities: The main bookmakers pitch is situated directly in front of the grandstand on the concourse area. On the day of our visit, seven bookies were in attendance, and doing a brisk trade with what was a more than decent crowd in attendance.
The Britbet bookmakers concession - Southwell
There is also a large Britbet concession inside the grandstand, and plenty of Tote concessions dotted conveniently around the course. No issues with placing or picking up a bet here. Rating: 8/10.
Friendliness of Course Staff: Plenty of racecourse staff dotted around the track and all of them very friendly, cheerful and helpful. A special mention goes to Mark Clayton, who is the Executive Director of the racecourse and golf club. Mark, who is a very busy man on racedays, very kindly afforded us a generous amount of his time and gave us a full guided tour of the racecourse and talked us through some of its history and modern-day features and facilities. It was genuinely appreciated by our reviewers. Rating: 10/10.
Pros & Cons: Southwell Racecourse is set in 145 acres of picturesque countryside, only a couple of miles from the very pretty town of Southwell itself, which has a Minster and, in our opinion, is most definitely worth a visit. Due to its location, access by car is not easy, but the railway station directly next to the course is a big bonus. It is a very busy racecourse with over 50 fixtures a year, so something is happening on a very regular basis. The car parking is excellent and it’s free. Pricing is very competitive and, in our opinion, offers VFM (Value for Money) with a number of options to suit all pockets.
On the day of our visit, the catering options were restricted, but more than adequate. The viewing of the racing is good, and the stands are of ample size, with good cover and shelter. The parade ring and the pre-parade ring are excellent in size, viewing and setting. The winner’s enclosure, not so much. The course staff are plentiful, friendly and very helpful. Southwell is a very well-run and maintained racecourse, and it shows. The key question, as always, is would we return? The answer is most certainly yes. Rating: 7/10.
VIP Watch: No VIPs were spotted on the course. Although we did see the pundit Matt Chapman working for Sky Racing, but this section is for VIPs. So it’s still a no.
Wi-Fi / Internet Connection: Free Wi-Fi is available once you have registered and logged in with the ARC portal. This requires you to enter all the usual questions, such as name, age, gender, email address etc. However, once you have registered, Wi-Fi is immediately available at all ARC racecourses. The connection was fast and reliable. (the Wi-Fi will be needed if your network provider is O2, as their network coverage was non-existent). No issues whatsoever.
Overall Racecourse Advisor Rating: 8/10.
The full day's racing results can be found here: https://www.sportinglife.com/racing/meeting/2023-07-25/southwell/98776
Facilities & location layout of Southwell Racecourse: (Image: credited & acknowledged to ARC Ltd)
Aerial View Southwell Racecourse: (Image: credited & acknowledged to Google Earth)
View Southwell Racecourse LED Floodlight Demonstration - Here: Southwell Racecourse Entertainment Package - YouTube
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