Well the great battle of Cheltenham has been fought and won by Imperial Commander and the marathon task of Aintree is three weeks away. Meanwhile the William Hill Lincoln Handicap Stakes is on the horizon and due to be run at the end of next week at Doncaster. As the National Horseracing Museum launches its new website it is timely for the first blog to connect the past with the present. In 2009 I had reason to pass through Lincoln on my way back from a trip up north. Coming into Lincoln on the A57 I saw in the distance what looked like a racecourse jockeys and numbers board. What’s that doing there I thought?…then the penny dropped – the old Lincoln racecourse. I wonder how much of it still exists? I parked up and started exploring.
Well one of the grandstands still exists and it seems it is still used for a number of municipal and community functions. Unfortunately the steps at the front are cordoned off so you cannot climb up and get a panoramic view of the site.
The stabling area from a distance seemed in good repair but I could not see what it was being used for. The main area behind the grandstand forms part of a park area and golf course and was well kept. In the 45 minutes I was there a number of cars came and went from the little car park next to the grandstand – it clearly is still popular spot – I like that.
The A57 divides the grandstand from the actual course which is still laid out with railings and fencing although rather overgrown. A reminder of the layout of the racourse from The Racecourses of Great Britain by F H Bayles published early in the twentieth century: Bayles remarked that 'it is advisable for jockeys to avoid taking a line too close to the rails, because the ground runs in hollows, and is much better going three or four feet from the rails. A very sharp active animal is most at home over this course, which is certainly not adapted to very high couraged and exitable horses, whose temperaments are often upset by close crowds.'
The two most important races traditionally run on the Carholme, where the racecourse is situated, were the Lincolnshire Handicap and the Brocklesby Stakes. The first winner of the Lincolnshire was Caurire in 1853. The Brocklesby was named after a colt bred at Brockelsby Park, Lincolnshire in 1709 and was run over one and a half milesfor all ages from 1849 until 1874. It was re-framed for two year olds over five furlongs as juvenile racing had became more popular.
Most racing historians would probably nominate the brilliant filly Sceptre* as the best racehorse ever to have graced the racecourse on the Carholme. Ironically though her run in the 1902 Lincolnshire ended in defeat by a head to St Maclou. Sceptre* did , however, go on that year to win four Classics.
The Lincolnshire Handicap has always been a popular early season race and has attracted large fields which reached a high when Commissar beat 57 rivals in 1948. That must have been some sight.
The financial fortunes and attendance at Lincoln races varied over many decades but by the mid twentieth century things were not looking very prosperous and in 1964 it all came to a head. In his 1972 article Philip Clifford wrote that 'from the roof of the Stonebow, Lincoln's ancient south gate, the 14th century Mote Bell rings out a summons before every meeting of the City Fathers but on Tuesday 21 July 1964 there could be little doubt as to why it tolled. It lamented the imminent death of one of England's historic racecourses. The Lincoln Council had announced the immediate end of Lincoln races. A Statement read that the Council had considered the situation arising out the Home Secretary's decision to approve the recommendation of the Horserace Betting Levy Board that finacial assistance to Lincoln racecourse should be withdrawn after 1966 and the declared intention of the Jockey Club not to grant fixtures after 1965...and that they feel that they are being forced out of business in a way that they deplore.' The Spring meeting in 1964 was the last Under Rules but there were a few Point-to-Point meetings in 1967.
Stood by the A57 in 2009 looking down the course imagining Sceptre and Commissar was quite poignant and worth the break in my journey.
*Sceptre: A wonderful painting of Sceptre is featured in the current exhibition,
at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket. It is well worth a visit.