Brighton racecourse has stood in its current location, on Whitehawk Hill, a mile or so inland from the English Channel on the South Downs in East Sussex, since 1822. The modern racecourse is idiosyncratic, insofar that it is characterised by pronounced undulations and a noticeable camber towards the inside rail from the home turn, which can lead to bunching, especially among inexperienced horses. In addition, the winning post is the highest point on the course, with an uphill climb throughout the final quarter of a mile.
Nevertheless, one of the most unusual features of Brighton, when compared with other modern British racecourses, is that it is not a complete circuit. Historically, the racecourse extended an additional half a mile, towards Roedean Village on the outskirts of Brighton, to create a complete circuit two miles in length. Nowadays, the racing surface is restricted to a left-handed horseshoe, just under twelve furlongs in length, so the longest race run at Brighton is 1 mile, 3 furlongs and 196 yards, or just shy of a mile and a half.
According to Guinness World Records, the oldest racecourse, still in operation, in Britain is Chester Racecourse, on the banks of the River Dee in Cheshire, North West England. Also known as the ‘Roodee’, or ‘Roodeye’, meaning ‘Island of the Cross’ – a name that dates from the Roman occupation of Chester – the racecourse was established by Henry Gee, a.k.a. ‘The Reforming Mayor of Chester’. The first recorded race was staged on February 9, 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII, and Henry Gee decreed that a horse racing meeting should become an annual event, thereby creating what has since become the oldest continuous venue for the sport in the British Isles.
Ascot Racecourse was founded in 1711, by Queen Anne, who declared an area near Ascot, or ‘East Cote’, village ‘ideal for horses to gallop at full stretch’. The first race, Her Majesty’s Plate, was staged in August that year and, for a short time, Ascot Races was a highlight of the Court social calendar. However, Queen Anne died in August, 1714 and, thereafter, support for Ascot Racecourse dwindled, until its fortunes were revived by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, during the reign of his nephew, King George III, over five decades later. The first Royal Meeting, in a recognisable modern form – that is, a four-day meeting – was staged in 1768, with the first Royal Stand, which later became the Royal Enclosure, erected in 1790, and the first Royal Procession taking place in 1825, by which time King George IV was the ruling monarch.