A family day out that won’t break the bank

The thunder of hooves, the cheer of the crowds and the outside chance of a big win – these are things that draw thousands of people to the races every year.

by I Robertson

We’re all familiar with the glamorous side of race-going

Often it’s the ladies’ designer outfits and spectacular hats that steal the headlines during the Cheltenham Festival, Ascot or The Derby. At the Grand National in Aintree this year, top-hatted men toasted worthy winner Pineau De Re with flutes of Champagne. But going to the races needn’t break the bank.

With race days being held all over the country for 360 days of the year, finding an affordable family day out is a sure thing. Most race courses allow under 16s in for free and adult tickets can cost as little as £10. You can go midweek, during the holidays or even in the evenings. You don’t have to be an expert in horse racing, punting on winners with online bookmakers like betfair, paddypower or bet365 to enjoy the day. Watch the horses in the parade ring, cheer them on during the race and applaud the champions in the winner’s enclosure.

Most race courses now offer fun days that are specifically tailored for families

While the grown-ups are picking their winners, the kids can take part in a whole range of activities that will keep them occupied. If you’re in the North West of England over Christmas time, head off to Haydock Park on December 30 for their Winter Wonderland Family Day. There’s face-painting, an ice-rink and a rodeo reindeer. It costs less than £12 to get in and Under 17s go free.

And if you’re not nursing a sore head on New Year’s Day and fancy a great day out, head off to Cheltenham where the kids can meet characters from Moshi Monsters. There’s a petting zoo with meerkats, mice and skunks and they’ll be entertained for ages with face-painting and magic. If you’re stuck for gift ideas, there are plenty of companies that offer race-day experience packages. You can usually choose from a whole range of courses and you can pick your dates, too.

Just with any other family day out, planning is key

Make sure you and the children dress appropriately. Forget high fashion and towering heels. Wear comfortable shoes and wrap up warm in the winter. Race courses are usually quite exposed so it may be windier than you’d expect.

In the summer, slap on sun cream, choosing a reliable brand, as you’ll be outside enjoying the atmosphere and the action for most of the day.

No matter how enticing the kids’ entertainment is, make sure they take in the whole horse racing experience. Take the children to the parade ring and choose your favourite runner, find horses with names that mean something to you and your family and cheer them loudly if they win.

Search out different places to watch the races – up close on the rails to hear the thunderous noise as they gallop past, at the finishing post or further round the course at one of the jumps to see them fly over the fences.

You can get all kinds of food at the races from noodles to hog roasts. But if you’re watching the pennies, there are plenty of places to settle down for a picnic.

Park up at one of the many picnic tables dotted around every course or throw down a blanket and get stuck in. When it’s cold, there are loads of indoor seating areas where you’ll be welcome to tuck into your own food.

Placing a bet is not compulsory, but you can have a flutter for as little as £2. Whether you win or lose, it’s sure to be a great day out.

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