Horse racing has long been a popular sport in Jersey, attracting large crowds, and it remains so today. A well maintained course at Les Landes is now the venue for regular meetings, but races have been staged in a variety of places over the years.
Meetings started on the beach at St Aubin and then moved to Greve d'Azette, where the first meeting was held on 11 August 1836 under the patronage of William IV. In 1843 the races moved onshore to Grouville Common, where they were staged for some 60 years, before moving to Don Bridge early in the 20th century. So important was the race meeting then that annual Militia camps had to be scheduled to avoid the dates already set for racing.
The advent of the Jersey Eastern Railway made access to Gorey for the racing on the common much easier for all, and the annual meeting became an island carnival, attracting enormous crowds, as shown in the famous P J Ouless painting of the 1849 event.
From 1886 to 1895 Grouville Farmers Races were held on Grouville Common but attendances which were good in the early years dropped off sharply in the 1890s and the two final events made losses.
Race meetings have also been held on the common at Jardin d'Olivet above Bouley Bay, but no record has been found of when the photograph by Albert Smith in the gallery below was taken.
Jersey Race Club
From the club website
The Jersey Race Club dates back to 1832, when the club was first formed for a two-day meeting on the sands at St Aubin. Racing has continued in one form or another until today, with the exception of the two world war periods.
In 1836 racing moved to Greve d’Azette, where the first King’s cup was contested, having been given to the island by HRH Prince William. The venue changed once again in 1843 to Gorey Common (the present day Royal Jersey Golf Course) and continued there until 1906.
The last quarter of the 19th century was the heyday of Jersey racing with the Jersey Race Club at Gorey, Trinity races at Jardin d’Olivet and the St Ouen’s races at Les Landes, to the west of the present racecourse. In addition, in 1898, a new course was built at Quennevais, St Brelade.
In 1894 the Channel Island Racing and Hunt Club was formed, with the idea of pulling together all these different activities. The club issued a single set of rules to cover racing in Jersey and Guernsey. General Pipon of Noirmont Manor was the first senior steward.
In 1906 all racing was concentrated at Les Quennevais, where it continued until 1961, when the present racecourse was built at Les Landes.
The horse racing at Don Bridge, St Brelade, was so popular that 23 trains from St Helier had to be put on, with a fare of 1s 3d for a return ticket. Entry to the course was 1a 6d, tax included, and the first race started at 12.45. Trains were not the only means of transport, as char-a-bancs and buses were also available.
The crowds could bet on the crown and anchor, as well as the horses, and the more well-to-do made use of the specially built stand to watch the proceedings. The first race was a hurdle, with Graceful Mover taking the first prize of £50. The Town Plate, a two mile handicap, was won by Martinique, which gave the owner a prize of £100.
A race at Les Quennevais in 1914. Photographed by Percival Dunham