Reputed to be the Worlds oldest sporting trophy still in existence,being raced for(a replica)at Hamilton this evening.
I was born in Lanark and my first ever horse racing experience was there in the late 50s.Saw a St James Palace Stakes winner and a dual Ascot Gold Cup winner race at the track.The track was closed on account of the low attendances which were in the region of 4000.How many small tracks would wish for these sort of figures nowadays?
A defunct racecourse that has a long past and perhaps still a role in the future is the venue for the fourth of a five-part series on racing north of the border * ONE but not forgotten.
GThere's a brown sign indicating the turnoff for Lanark racecourse, and you follow the road round, but at the end of the road there's no racecourse there any more.
Well, almost. Because the circuit is still there, the tight right-hand track that used to put the fear of God into visiting jockeys. It hasn't been buried under new houses, hasn't been paved over for a supermarket car park. It runs lush and green and new-mown, as if still waiting patiently for the imprint of horseshoes after an absence of 33 years. But that's all there is.
There are no grandstands, no enclosures, no running rails, no winning post. Only the old Tote building still remains thanks to its Listed status, its clock-hands pointing permanently to half past two, as incongruous as an old tooth in a young mouth.
But the track is still there, a mile and a quarter round with a straight five furlongs, and you can walk around it as though it were raceday tomorrow, the grass flattened no longer by galloping hooves but by an army of friendly dog walkers and their friendlier charges. And when you walk around it Lanark's history comes alive along the way.
Lanark was closed down in early 1978, its last afternoon of sport having taken place the previous October, for which information and parts of what follows I am indebted to Chris Pitt's superlative book of racing's lost venues, A Long Time Gone.
The racecourse closed because it ran out of money. The Levy Board withdrew its financial support and Lanark slipped away from us, 800 years of history consigned to the scrapheap. Its demise was generally unmourned - Lanark had never contributed greatly to the gaiety of British racing - and positively welcomed by the men who had the dubious privilege of riding round its tight bends.
John Lowe called it "a frightening track", adding "even though I rode the last winner there I wish it had closed before I started riding". Willie Carson remembered that "they used to fall a lot on the turn into the straight", the late Johnny Seagrave explained that "the course was like a skating rink when wet".
The jewel in the course's crown was the historic Lanark Silver Bell, once Britain's oldest race and reputedly instituted by King William the Lion of Scotland in the late 12th century. The Silver Bell is in the vaults of South Lanarkshire Council and the race lives on following its recent transfer to nearby Hamilton Park. It's just the racecourse that is no longer with us.
The infield is now occupied by the pitches of the Lanark Rugby Club and a football pitch or two, and the ponies of the adjacent Scottish Equi Complex crop grass in what space remains to them - you see, there are still horses at Lanark racecourse, although they do not move very fast.
Halfway down the narrow back straight a Wilson No.II golf ball gleams whitely in the grass, next to a discarded condom and an ex-crow in the final stages of decomposition, a disconcerting Dali-esque tableau. A big yellow Labrador sniffs at each item, selects the golf ball and makes off with it towards the home turn.
Close up, it's easy to see what those jockeys meant about the bends. It takes only a little effort to picture a dozen horses careering into the home turn, hear the frantic pleas for racing room, envisage the tangle of legs and bright silks as some poor unfortunate goes tumbling.
There is more room up the home straight, and as I approach the spot where the winning post used to stand the site of the demolished grandstands is evident, overgrown and fenced off. Over the wall the traffic on the A73 rattles by, in the infield a large skewbald pony windsucks at a post, and a jogger sweeps past me, beating me to a ghostly finishing line and haring off round the sharp top turn.
Given the relatively good preservation of the racing surface it is no surprise that attempts have been made to rekindle the flame at Lanark. Trotting races have been staged there, point-to-points took place in the 1990s and a decade ago Lanark's name appeared on a list of possible 'new' racecourses, although the council - which has jurisdiction over this parcel of land - put paid to any lingering hopes by demolishing the grandstands.
What would it take to revive Lanark? Assent from the local council, initially. New grandstands and infrastructure, certainly, plastic rails to replace the wire fencing that marks the line of the course, and probably a realignment of the bends to give today's jockeys a fighting chance, but the racing surface itself would probably need only minimal work.
On the other hand, it's been plain for years that the north needs an all-weather track - perhaps Lanark might make an ideal site. It's flat, has decent transport links, is reasonably close to a major population centre ... and isn't there a considerable amount of high-quality Polytrack lying idle at a certain venue in Essex? It's probably just wishful thinking born of a bright morning, a skyful of birdsong and the pleasure of discovery. In the grass next to the weathered Tote building, half-buried in the loose soil, is a broken board that must have fallen from its place on some windy night.
I dig out the pieces, put them back together, and when the jigsaw is complete a lime green '3' is revealed, a relic of the days when the soft Scottish air was filled with the sound of galloping horses, with raucous cries from the packed grandstands and with a flurry of torn-up betting tickets as another good thing went bad.
I put the board in the boot of my car for a souvenir of Lanark, half-forgotten but certainly not gone. And as I drive away it might be my imagination, but I'm sure I can hear the ringing of a little silver bell. Tomorrow: the delights of greyhound racing at Shawfield
A defunct racecourse that has a long past and perhaps still a role in the future is the venue for the fourth of a five-part series on racing north of the border * ONE but not forgotten. GThere's a brown sign indicating the turnoff for Lanark racecour
the date, name of winning horse and winning owner was inscribed on a little silver plaque and attached to the ring around the original trophy. the member of the landed gentry who won the bell was allowed to take it home and keep it for a year.
Once commoners started getting involved as owners (merchants, tradesmen, etc.) it was deemed too risky to hand over the bell in case they didn't get it back, so the winners were awarded replicas.
the original trophy disappeared for years but was discovered in a bank vault where it had been placed for safekeeping.
the date, name of winning horse and winning owner was inscribed on a little silver plaque and attached to the ring around the original trophy. the member of the landed gentry who won the bell was allowed to take it home and keep it for a year. Once c