Wayfarer Column- A look into the history of horse racing in Ayr

Well the New Year is now upon us and in putting the old year behind us we can look forward to a fresh start in what will hopefully 2015 will be a good year.

Well now to an interesting tale, particularly for those who like a flutter on our four legged friends. We all know that Ayr Racecourse is the premier racecourse in Scotland but if you look back into its history you will find some very interesting tales to tell..

Racing in Ayr all started back in 1576 when Lord Cassillis and a few friends met to see who had the fastest horse, but unfortunately it developed into an argument with shots fired, fortunately no one was killed. But it encouraged an interest in a new sport in which everyone could be involved . In those days horses were a very important part of life, our main form of transport and those who could afford one or more horses were very proud of them. However many of those who could not afford a horse were employed to look after them and as a consequence were just as interested in their prowess as the owners. Obviously the next step was to see whose was the best, and naturally this resulted in racing and as you will appreciate bets were laid. The first races were held on Ayr beach with nice firm sand and in plain view of all interested parties which included a lot of townsfolk. In 1609 A Golden Bell horse race was run on the beach and later as the sport developed the Ayr magistrates appreciating the interest purchased a Silver Dirk which was considered the precursor of the Ayr Gold Cup.

However it was decided that racing should be better organized and in 1770 a 63 acre site was purchased on Seafield farm, where the golf course now stands, bordered by Racecourse Road. A stand was built for the use of the local aristocracy and all was set with the first race officially recorded in Weatherby’s Racing Calender of 1777. Naturally these races attracted side shows, a fair ground, as well as farmers selling their produce including kippers a product of the fishmarket in Newton upon Ayr. So it became a big attraction to the town bringing in many visitors all of which was naturally of benefit to the town and still is. However in 1904 the course was moved to its present position and in 1950 was changed to accommodate hurdles, steeplechases as well as flat racing. But just think that all this started with a few men proud to show off their horses and have a few bets on a race held on Ayr beach. An interesting look into the history of racing.

See you next week.