Was there once a racecourse in Newport, Gwent?

Yes, there was, although ‘Newport Racecourse’ was, in fact, in Caerleon, a suburban town on the northern outskirts of Newport. The first recorded meeting at the course was staged in August, 1845 and meetings continued until 1854. Thereafter, the racecourse fell out of favour for decades and the next recorded meeting at ‘Newport’ did not take place until November, 1899. Racing was suspended for World War I and again for World War II, but resumed in 1946 and continued until the final meeting in May, 1948.
In its heyday, Newport Racecourse briefly played host to both the Welsh Champion Hurdle and the Welsh Grand National, following the closure of Ely Racecourse in Cardiff, which was, prior to its closure in 1939, the leading racecourse in Wales. However, both principal races were transferred to Chepstow Racecourse, in Monmouthsire, following the demise of Newport Racecourse after World War II.

Who invented handicapping?

Nowadays, handicapping – that is, allocating each horse in a race weight according to its ability, such that every horse has an equal chance of winning – is performed by a team of dedicated, professional handicappers employed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

However, prior to 1851, no compensation was made for horses of different abilities or different ages racing against each other. The man who effectively invented handicapping was Admiral Henry John Rous, who was elected a member of the Jockey Club in 1821, at the tender age of 26, and appointed senior steward of the Jockey Club in 1838, following his retirement from the Navy two years earlier.

In 1850, Rous published ‘The Laws and Practices of Horse Racing’ and the following year devised the first ‘weight-for-age’ scale. The weight-for-age scale, which is still in use today, describes weight allowances that younger horses receive from older rivals, over different distances at different times of year. By compensating for the lack of physical maturity in younger horses, the weight-for-age scale affords horses of different ages an equal chance of winning. Rous was renowned as an expert handicapper, especially in two-horse races, or ‘matches’, and was appointed official handicapper in 1855.

Who initiated the Royal Procession at Ascot?

Ascot Racecourse, situated approximately six miles from Windsor Castle on land leased from the Crown Estate, has always enjoyed Royal connections. The racecourse was founded, in an area originally known as ‘East Cote’, by Queen Anne in 1711 and, although what would eventually become ‘Royal Ascot’ would develop, piecemeal, over the next few decades, the first recognisable, four-day Royal Meeting to place in 1768, during the reign of King George III.

However, it was King George IV who initiated the Royal Procession in 1825, five years after his accession to the throne, following the death of his father, in 1820. The tradition has continued ever since. Nowadays, a 2pm sharp on each of the five days, including Saturday, Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the Royal Family make their way in convertible carriages, known as Ascot Landaus, each drawn by four Windsor Grey horses, from the Royal Gates at the far end of the racecourse, along the Straight Mile, to the Parade Ring.

What is the Wokingham Stakes?

The Wokingham Stakes is a traditional, high-profile six-furlong handicap, officially rated ‘Class 2’, which is open to horses aged three years and upwards and officially rated 0-110. Named after the historic market town in Berkshire, seven miles west of Ascot, the Wokingham Stakes was inaugurated in 1813 and is currently scheduled as the penultimate race on the fifth and final day of Royal Ascot in June each year.

Indeed, the Wokingham Stakes is the oldest of the handicap races still run at the Royal Meeting and, with total prize money of £175,000, £108,937.50 of which goes to the winner, the race falls into the category of ‘Heritage Handicap’. In common with similar races, such as the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood, the Great St. Wilfrid Stakes at Ripon and Ayr Gold Cup, the Wokingham Stakes tends to attract a high quality field; in 2019, the lowest rated horse in the field, Sir Maximilian, was rated 95. Nevertheless, with a safety limit of 30, the Wokingham Stakes is invariably a popular betting heat and has thrown up winners at 33/1 twice, 25/1 and 14/1 in the last ten renewals.

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