The County Ground in Taunton has roped off the square for the last time this season. As usual, it has seen exciting cricket, for Somerset has always opened its arms to the village blacksmith type of cricketer: batsmen who are mighty smiters of the ball, and bowlers who dig it in. A certain Corinthian attitude is imbued in their being. Think of them; Arthur Wellard, Harold Gimblett, Ian Botham et al, six hitters extraordinaire before the white ball game spawned the habit. A push and prod type just wouldn’t be par for the course.
Now the summer is done, another Taunton venue opens its doors to winter’s great sporting pastime, National Hunt racing. Just a couple of miles away in Orchard Portman we are pleased to open our thirteen fixture season on October 27th, running through until April 21st next year.
The participants in these two sporting theatres have much in common. The owners who enter their horses to race at this charming and intimate country course, come not in search of great prize money, but great sport. After all, the winner of the Grand National will earn more in one race than the entire prize money for all of Taunton’s eighty races. To take up the cudgels again with friendly rivals of days past, and to relish challenges from newcomers is the inspiration.
Racing in and around Taunton dates from the 18th century, when Broomhay, West Monkton hosted racing until 1812. The Napoleonic wars and certain local difficulties occasioned a move to Bridgwater for the next dozen or so years. It recommenced again in Taunton, on what are now the grounds of King’s College. In 1825, a few years later, after a devastating rain storm washed away much of the course, the races were on the move again, this time to Trull Moor. Another fifteen years later, racing moved back to Bridgwater. The Times announced in 1927 that Viscount Portman had generously made it possible for a racecourse to be built on its present site, and until Chelmsford and Ffos Las were created within the past 20 years, Taunton held the status of the country’s youngest venue for the latter part of the twentieth century. On the autumn equinox of that year 1927, the first meeting on the present course was held, and the first race, a seller, was won by Baalbek.
The course would seem to best suit well balanced and nimble horses, and yet many fine hunter types of seventeen hands and more have prospered here. Taunton has been as much a home for the hunter chasers from Exmoor and the mighty chasers of Forster and Nicholson as the whippet-like hurdlers of Martin Pipe. Now it won’t take a scientist to understand that the powerhouses of Nicholls and Hobbs lead the tally board most seasons.
There is something of a county show atmosphere that creates the warm and comfortable ambience that pervades proceedings. The stand offers uninterrupted views across the entire course, yet standing on the inside of the track at the third last can be an even more thrilling vantage point. Throughout the day one can mingle in the bars and excellent restaurants both with the local farming folk and those regular aficionados who have taken the train from the big cities to Taunton rail station.
For unrivalled rural pleasure it is hard to beat a day at Taunton races, even if we say so ourselves. Get yourself booked in for October 27th.