The first reference found to Basingstoke races is in the London Gazette of 15 August 1687.

The advertisement tells us that horses could be entered to run in Basingstoke either locally or in London, indicating that horses from anywhere in England could be raced.

Notices for the races in Basingstoke also appeared in the London Gazette in 1689 to 1713. From the weights given that the horses were to carry, it would appear that owners were riding their own horses.

Basingstoke Gazette: Basingstoke Down taken from a report on his lands commissioned  by the Duke of Bolton in 1762

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The next reference to the racecourse is from the Daily Post-dated 21 July 1729 reporting a private match: “On Wednesday last the Rev Mr Gerrard’s Mare run against Mr St John’s horse on Basingstoke Downs, for twenty guineas, twice round the two mile course, and one guinea a post."

This tells us the course was two miles long and was marked out by posts. At this time Basingstoke Down was common land and if the racecourse had not been in regular use the posts would not have remained in place.

During the 1730’s advertisements for the races appeared in the national press, the races being held over 2 to 4 days with prizes of between 5 and 30 guineas.

By this time the races fell into two categories, firstly “Town Plates” and secondly subscription races where gentlemen would pay a sum of money to enter. The weights that the horses carried were now suggesting jockeys were being employed for some races. Each race consisted of up to three heats of up to four miles.

 A 1738 notice also tells us that the funds for the Town Plate were raised as follows: - Horses had to pay a fee on entry. - Horses entering for the races were to be kept at a public house which had subscribed 10s 6d. to the prize money. Horses to be plated only by smiths who had subscribed 5s. - Anyone who wished to sell liquor on the Down to pay 5s to erect a booth.

The races would have brought significant tourist and entertainment to the whole town. On each morning of the races cockfights at local inns would have taken place. Then there would be the Ordinaries (fixed price meals), held each day of the races and a ball was held on at least one evening.

Basingstoke Gazette: Basingstoke Race notice

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In 1739 a notice for the races states: “On Wednesday the 15th of August next will be run for on the new Course on Basingstoke Down….” 

No map of the course before 1739 has been found but the new course is shown on a map of Basingstoke commissioned by the Duke of Bolton in 1762. This shows the racecourse covering 2 miles, giving the start post, the course marking posts, the mile post and the finish.

By the early 1750, the races were two day events with a prize of £50 each day.

In 1769, in addition to the £50 Town Plate races, sweepstake races were also held where subscribers paid a sum to enter a horse, with the stakes (typically 10 to 25 guineas) going to the winner.

In 1773 Robert Cane, was given him the right years to erect a stand at the racecourse. There is no proof that this stand was erected.

In the 1770s and 1780s the races were in decline. At this time the Basingstoke Enclosure Bill was going through Parliament, receiving Royal Assent in 1786 with Basingstoke Down being finally enclosed in 1787.

The last races held on the Downs course were on 29th and 30th June 1786.

This article was contributed by Jean Dale from the Kempshott History Group.