It’s still possible to walk around the old racecourse – in fact it’s one of the best walks from Waltham. It can be reached by a footpath on the edge of the village – opposite the Methodist Chapel. Or from a footpath on the left along Bescaby Lane. Or there’s a farm track about 200m from the village on the right, heading towards Grantham.
According to this history, only one race a year was run on the course. The first published results appeared in 1821, and the last race was run on 2nd April 1914. We’ve only found one photograph so far taken at the racecourse: Click here to view it. If anyone has any more photos, please let us know.
Reproduced from ‘A Long Time Gone’; A history of Britain’s lost horse-racing tracks by Chris Pitt, first published in 1996.
Opinions were divided as to the merits of Croxton Park. It all depends who you believe. It provided, according to Bayles’ Racecourse Atlas, “a most enjoyable termination to the hunting season, in the grass country around Leicestershire. The Duke of Rutland entertains at Belvoir Castle, and Lord Lonsdale and a host of others of the landed gentry entertain largely on the course. In a word, it is the sporting conclusion for the subscribers to the Quorn, Belvoir, Cottesmore, and Mr Ferule’s pack.”
However, Charles Richardson in The English Turf was less enthused: “Croxton Park Meeting is of purely local interest, and the long programme always includes several races under NH Rules. The fixture is confined to one day, and this is perhaps enough, as the scene of the action is a long way from a railway station and by no means easy to reach”. (Click to view our page on the railway.)
Traditionally, the Croxton Park fixture was held on the Thursday after Easter, although this did vary on occasions. There were many who called for a second day to be added, or even another meeting in the autumn, but a one day a year fixture it remained throughout.
There were no steeplechases run there, purely Flat and hurdle races. The programme generally consisted of four Flat and two hurdles, one of which was for farmers, the other open to professional jump jockeys. Until the last few years of its life, two events were exclusively for horses owned by members of the Club, and were ridden by them. The other events were open to jockeys, who had to carry a 7lbs penalty.
The five furlong course was quite severe, being on the rise the whole way, most noticeably in the final quarter mile. The right handed round course was about a mile and seven furlongs in circumference with a run in of 24Oyds from the home turn. It was an undulating yet good galloping track, comparable with Leicester or Folkestone.
Results from Croxton Park first appear in the Racing Calendar of 1821, though significantly it lists “The third year of the Billesden Coplow Stakes”, suggesting that racing had taken place before that. This particular race was for amateur riders over “2 miles and a distance” (a distance being 243 yards) and it remained on the card until the 1890′s. Notable corinthians to win the Billesden Coplow Stakes include John Maunsell Richardson on Lord Calthorpe’s Felix in 1872. Another, Arthur Coventry, had his first ride in public at Croxton Park in 1874, while Mr Rippon Brockton won the Waltham Hurdle seven years in a row.
Croxton Park may only have been a minor meeting but it attracted many of the top Flat jockeys, even though until later years only two or three races were open to them.
In 1888, for example, Sam Loates and that notorious amateur George Baird were among the riders to score. In fact, both won on the same horse, Mr Howett’s Sherbrooke, who first won the Scurry Welter Handicap over five furlongs, then turned out again just an hour later to win the Granby Handicap at a mile and a quarter. Loates had already ridden a Derby winner, Harvester in 1884, and was to win the race again on Sir Visto in 1895.
Baird, who rode under the nom de course of “Mr Abington”, was known to his cronies and hangers on as “The Squire”, He was a highly competent race rider but all too often behaved in the manner of a bully and a lout, with human vultures of both sexes surrounding him throughout his adult life. He was dead at 32 and, according to a Scottish newspaper, much of his fortune “had been squandered on horse racing, prize fighting and barlotry.”
The 1899 meeting saw Tom Loates, one of four jockey brothers, ride St Theodora to win the Croxton Park Stakes. The royal jockey Jack Watts won the one mile Belvoir Plate aboard the 1/8 favourite Peace and Plenty, a four-year-old who defied the crushing weight of l3st lIb. And, remember, this was a Flat race!
William Halsey rode two winners and a second from three rides in 1902, with Mornington Cannon also having a winner there. Halsey rode both on the Flat and over jumps. He was second on Barsac in the Grand National of 1900 and the following yearwon the 2,000 Guineas on Handicapper.
Otto Madden, four times champion jockey, notched a Croxton double in 1909. Danny Manor won the opener at the 1910 fixture on the 1/3 favourite Renown, while Sceptre’s jockey Herbert Randall scored on Victo and Wise Gipsy.
William Griggs rode a double there in 1911. The following year he won one and was twice second to his brother Waiter. The Griggs brothers were popular jockeys during the first twenty years of the century. Walter was the more successful of the two; among his winners in Mr Jack Joel’s colours were Your Majesty, winner of the 1908 St Leger and Eclipse Stakes; Black Jester (1914 St Leger) and Dean Swift in the 1909 Coronation Cup. He also won the 1915 Oaks on Snow Marten.
Willie Griggs’ best year was 1907 when he rode 67 winners. Major victories during his career included the Chester Cup, Stewards’ Cup, Lincoln and Goodwood Cup. His one Classic success came two years before he retired, with Cinna in the 1920 1,000 Guineas.
The hurdle races at Croxton Park were usually well supported in terms of quantity, if not quality. Captain George Paynter, whose l2st 5lbs body weight confined him mainly to Military and Hunt races, had a rare success over timber when winning the Farmers’ Hurdle on Mr Cooper’s Merry Susan in 1908. She finished third in the corresponding race in 1913, anchored by a l3st Glbs burden; the winner that year was Sunloch, who within twelve months was to add the Grand National to his tally.
The Croxton Park Private Sweepstakes was open only to members of the Quorn, Cottesmore, Belvoir and Mr Fernie’s Hunts. It had great local prestige and aged corinthians would come out of retirement one day a year to take part. Mr Russell Monro won it four years running from 1894 to 1897 and again in 1903 when, riding a horse named Silence, be beat the celebrated amateur Mr George Tbursby by a neck. In 1907 John Maunsell Richardson won the race on Cassiobury Park, beating a large field. This was the first race he had ridden in since his Grand National triumph on Reugny 33 years earlier.
The final day’s racing at Croxton Park took place on 2nd April 1914. It was one of a number of tracks that failed to survive the Great War. At that last meeting, Fred Rickaby won the Belvoir Welter Plate on George Lambton’s Fassfern, the 5/4 favourite. The final event on the card, the Billesden High-Weight Handicap, went to the 10/1 shot Verbena, trained by John Hallick at Lambourn and ridden by his apprentice Frank Sounders.
The full list of winners is as follows:
Framers’ Hurdle; £65, 2m 4t, Bescaby (Mr Ward) 7 ran
Waltham Handicap Hurdle, £47, 2m, Vastern (W Escott) 7 ran
Belvoir Welter Plate. £100, 1m, Fassfern (F Rickaby) 7 ran
Granby Handicap. £167, 1m 4f, Automatic (Mr/-f/-font) 7 ran
Croxton Park Stakes (Opt Sell) l2yol, £124, Sf, Footman f/-f Robbins) 8 ran
Billesden High-Weight Handicap, cioo, St. Verbena (F Sounders) 9 ran
* There was also a Private Sweepstakes (result not fisted)
The Croxton Park meeting was a peculiar mixture of top flight Flat professionalism and sporting traditionalists from the hunting world. It was great fun but destined not to last. Its only surviving legacy is the Croxton Park Novices’ Hurdle, which is still run at Leicester.