First 50 years of horse racing in Torquay

While Newton Abbot may be renowned today for its popular racecourse, it was actually in Torquay where the first horse racing took place, more than 25 years before the Newton Abbot course opened.

Here, historian Malcolm Bidder looks at the first 50 years of horse racing in Torquay.

It was on February 16, 1854, that the first race meeting was held in Cary Park with a grandstand built behind Furrough Cross.

The Sun London newspaper reported that it would receive the race results by electric telegraph.

The races then moved to Petitor where, to accommodate spectators who had paid for a paddock ticket, a substantial wooden grandstand was built with a refreshment room underneath which catered for 1,200 people.

This was put out to tender every year and demolished after the meeting and the wood auctioned off in lots.

Special trains were laid on for race goers from Exeter and Plymouth with celebrations going on late into the night.

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South Devon Railway announced that passengers with special train tickets could use the return ticket the following day.

In 1870, the West of England Handicap Chase was declared void when the owners refused to run the horses because of an unfair handicap.

The following year when the prize money was increased to 100 Guineas, it was won by Mr Graham’s horse Dodono.

Sir Lawrence Palk informed the race committee that 1876 would be the last year for horse racing at Petitor.

He was not happy about anti-social behaviour the racing attracted.

A report in the East and South Devon Advertiser on February 24, 1877, suggested that a meeting of Newton Abbot and the former Torquay races committee with a view to sharing a racecourse at Kingskerswell was a possibility.

However, Torquay races moved to Waddeton in 1878 and Newton a Abbot races opened in 1879.

In 1882, Newton Abbot races proposed to run a race meeting on Easter Monday, clashing with a meeting at Waddeton.

The Torquay committee warned Newton Abbot of the consequences if they went ahead.

Torquay races had powerful stewards including R Mallock, W Chatto and Lord Churston.

The meeting at Waddeton was very popular particularly with Great Western Railway which ran excursions to Churston.

A meeting held on January 13, 1883, at the Union Hotel in Torquay noted that Torquay races had only moved to Waddeton on a temporary basis.

A reliable informant said Lord Halton would be prepared to take over Petitor.

In March 1886, Lord Halton laid the foundation stone for a new permanent stand for 3,000 spectators.

By the following year, the attendance was more than 15,000.

In 1901, eight licences were applied for to run booths to sell alcohol although the vicar of Ellacombe voiced his objections.

Mr Irving Taylor of Teignmouth applied for a booth to sell alcohol in the paddock.

This was unusual as the ardent drinker would get drunk with the price paid for entry to the paddock enclosure.

The licences were granted for booths to open from midday to 6pm.

In April 1904, Superintendant Ryall, a mounted policeman, rode his horse across the course to warn people who were inside the ropes.

Celebration, one of the runners, collided with the police horse.

Frank Underwood Webb, stable keeper of Landsdowne Mews, then proceeded to sue Torquay races for £50 damages to the horse.

At Torquay County Court on October 15, Superintendant Ryall insisted that although his horse was on the track, it was close to the ropes.

After hearing from several witnesses, the jury returned a verdict that negligence had taken place and awarded the plaintiff £50 damages.

However, the judge disagreed and overturned the verdict, awarding the defendants their costs.