The earliest written account of racing at Cartmel dates back to 1856. It’s almost certain that racing has taken place here since at least the middle of the fifteenth century when monks of the nearby priory entertained themselves by organising racing on mules, no bookmakers naturally but little doubt some form of illegal gambling took place. Early meetings were on the flat but by the start of the twentieth century the course had switched codes and had become a jump only venue. This was far more in keeping with the interests of the local population who were steeped in farming and hunting.
At this time, racing took place on one day of the year, namely Whit Monday, but in 1947 the Saturday was added and in the 1960’s the August meeting was introduced. The extra Wednesday in May and the two dates in June and in July are recent additions.
Racing was suspended during the war years and might well have finished altogether had it not been for the efforts of local landowners and the Pain family. They were assisted by a number of influential individuals including George Dickinson, grandfather of the famous Michael Dickinson, who saddled the first five home in the Gold Cup of 1983.
Until the sixties Cartmel was the preserve of the sporting amateur, with very few professional jockeys taking the trouble to visit the course. This all changed through the efforts of Colonel Davy Pain and his Clerk of the Course, Tim Riley who propelled the course from a small holiday fun track to the front line of National Hunt racing with aggregate attendances rivalling Cheltenham and Aintree. By the useful resource of media and the provision of user friendly facilities, racing expanded with the fun fair and trade stalls in the centre of the course.
The Racecourse and land surrounding it has always been owned by the Holker Estate, home to the Cavendish family and the Estate’s involvement started in 1974 when Hugh Cavendish became a Director. His enthusiasm for the course grew and culminated when the Estate bought out the previous management team in 1998 and the course has progressed since then. With the aid and guidance of the Aintree management team, Cartmel has now prospered further retaining its sense of uniqueness and charm, but ensuring that professional racing is staged.
Over the years, the course has been improved substantially and a new irrigation system installed to ensure the integrity of the going. In 2004 the old Grandstand was demolished and a new Grandstand was built which provides first class facilities for the jockeys and officials as well as a new restaurant and hospitality facilities for guests to enjoy. As a result, Cartmel has raised the quality of the racing attracting horses run by well-known trainers such as Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston-Davies, David Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Donald McCain.
In recognition of the work undertaken to widen the course, improve drainage and irrigation, in 2016 the team at Cartmel Racecourse were crowned overall ‘Racecourse Groundstaff Champions’ at the Racecourse Association (RCA) annual Showcase & Awards event. In 2017, a further nomination was received for the RCA ‘Racing Post Readers Award’ category.
During the last few years, the Estate have steered the management of the racing and the site towards an entertainment and corporate venue, adding ‘concert race days’ to the fixture list, whilst still ensuring that the unique heritage and essence that is ‘Cartmel’ is retained.