Racing in Market Rasen has its beginnings with the formation of the White Hart Hotel Friendly Society in 1800. Society members organised the annual Feast Week, which included two-horse matches between Local Gentlemen.
The local publicans organised a week of festivities, Monday-racing, Tuesday -sports in the Market Place, Wednesday-a cricket match, plus rifle ranges, coconut shires, blood sports and Aunt Sally, Balls and musical gatherings. It was held in the first week after the Annual Livestock Fair in September. After the railway arrived in 1848, horses were transported to the meets by train and excursion trains started to bring in more spectators. In 1857 there were 3,000 spectators at the Legsby Lane course.
Between 1848-1872 Mr George Rowell of the Gordon Arms Hotel, held 13 out of the 31 meetings on his land.-Legsby Lane, Mill Lane, Linwood Road, and Willingham Road (opposite today’s course). After the racing some of the spectators would go back to the Hotel for dinner.
Market Rasen Steeplechase
Thursday 17th March 1859
Stewards-Captain Fox, JJ Young, J Davis, JC Thorpe, and Ed Davy Secretary and Treasurer-Mr W Goodson 6 races, dinner at the White Hart Hotel afterwards. Jockeys meet at White Hart Hotel at 10 am. subject to the weather
taken from an early race card
Racing at Market Rasen changed over the years, there were a mixture of Spring and Autumn meetings, steeplechase, hurdles and flat racing. In 1876 Mr Thomas Nettleship hosted a meeting at Brewster’s Park on the Caistor Road, There were flat and hurdle races on the same day- a rare event. Feast Week finished in 1887, with the decline of the Friendly Societies. But the racecourse stayed at Brewster’s Park until 1924, there were some problems as it was still a ploughed field, and spectators were not fenced off. They often watched from farmers’ wagons.
1915, “Ally Sloper” bred by Charles Hill of Market Rasen won the Grand National. Mr Hill and his father bred several famous horses and taught many locals to ride. James H Nettleship (son of Thomas) was involved in the Racecourse 1914-1940, he was starter and judge, Chairman and Secretary.
In 1924 The Market Rasen Racing Committee,- JH Nettleship, W Cartwright, and H Abraham bought the land in Willingham Road, the present day site. Wilfred Cartwright was Clerk-of-the-Course from 1909 to 1946, he laid out the new racecourse.
The first race on the new course was won by Joseph Goodson Lyall, “Have a Care” ridden by his son Bob Lyall, (George Rowell’s grandson) . The race was a selling steeplechase, and the horse was sold for 135 gns to Mr Penarves.
Bob and his brother Frank rode many winners at Market Rasen . Bob went on to win the Grand National in 1931 on “Grakle”. There were 2 other meetings that year, a new grandstand and 1,700 spectators. More facilities were added over the years, accommodation, stabling, number board etc., by Easter Monday 1939 the racecourse could hold 10,000 spectators!
During the WW11 the racecourse was requisited by the Military, used by the Yorkshire Hussars, the Welsh Fusiliers, the Hampshires, the HQ of the Observer Corps, Searchlight Unit was in the carpark, the course was ploughed up for cereals and finally Italian POWs were living in the buildings until early 1946.
Easter Monday 1946 there were 18,000 spectators at the meeting, so racing was still popular at Market Rasen. In 1947 there were 6 meetings during the season.
The jockey and author Dick Francis (1920-2010), rode many times at Market Rasen between 1946-1957, after retiring due to a fall (not at Market Rasen) he wrote about the course in his books.
Wilfred Cartwright and Victor J Lucas worked hard to secure the course’s future over the next 20 years. Branching out – 1950 for example
The Princes Royal, HRH Princes Mary (sister of King George V1) attended the Lincolnshire Girl Guides Rally held at the Market Rasen racecourse, there were 2,000 Guides and Brownies.
In 1967 the company became Racecourse Holding Trust with the help of the Jockey Club.
1968 Red Rum ran in the Novice Hurdle at Market Rasen, he later won 3 Grand Nationals. Stars were made at Market Rasen. By 1970 the number of meetings had risen to 15. Between 1971-1978 The Market Rasen Show was held at the racecourse. Red Rum returned in 1985 to reopen the The Chase, King Street. There is also a bar at the racecourse named after him.
Bob Champion and “Aldanti” visited the racecourse in 2010 has part of national charity event.
The Tom Halliday Memorial Scholarship was created in 2005 after Tom died from injuries caused by a fall at Market Rasen. In 2010 Joe Cornwall received the scholarship.
It is listed today as
A national Hunt racecourse, right-handed oval, circumference of 1 and a quarter mile, with 22 race meetings.
During the Covid-19 lockdowns the racing has been behind closed doors. Once the pandemic is over the race course can continue with its other events-
Wedding exhibitions, car exhibitions, dog shows, Auctions, Christmas shopping and charity events, X factor, fireworks displays, Pony Club camp, fun runs, corporation functions, 9-hole pitch and putt and a caravan site.
CM Foster 2021
2011 Talk by Jean Lucas to RHS
Market Rasen Races by Jean Lucas 1989