What Is Floodlit Racing & Which Courses Have Floodlights?

Chelmsford City Racecourse racing with floodlights
Photo thanks to Chelmsford City

There is something a little special about witnessing live sporting events under the lights. Whether it’s a big Champions League fixture on a Tuesday evening or a T20 Friday Night Blast cricket clash, floodlights always seem to add a little glitz, glamour and extra excitement to the occasion.

Making their sporting debut at Bramall Lane in 1878, floodlights are now a feature of many outdoor sporting pursuits, lighting up the evening action in football, cricket, rugby league, Aussie rules, and more. Not to be outdone, horse racing has now embraced the wonders of artificial lighting, with the number of floodlit fixtures growing significantly ever since they first made an appearance on a British course in 1994.

What Is Floodlit Racing?

For those unfamiliar with the type of lighting used in so many outdoor sports around the world, a floodlight is a type of artificial light which transmits high-intensity light over a broad area. The name “floodlight” stems from the fact that these lights are said to flood the nearby area with light.

Floodlit racing is therefore simply horseracing which takes place under the glare of these lights, which thus allows it to take place after the sun’s gone down. The floodlights themselves usually look down on the track from a steady array of stanchions positioned alongside the running rail.

Why Are Floodlights Used in Racing?

The first part of the answer to this question is as simple as you might expect. Floodlights are used to light up evening meetings so that jockeys, horses, and spectators can see what is going on – which is clearly essential for the horses and jockeys – and it adds considerably to the entertainment value for the spectators.

Of course, the reality is, that without floodlights, many of these evening meetings would not be able to take place at all. Jockeys, after all, don’t want to ride in the dark, and those attending the track likely have little desire to peer through the gloom in an effort to catch a glimpse of their selection.

Benefits of Floodlit Racing

The advent of floodlit courses represented a real boon for the industry, enabling race meetings to take place when they previously could not. A quick look at the 2023 fixture list illustrates the positive impact of these illuminations.

A total of 1,489 fixtures were scheduled to take place in 2023. Of this total, 1,066 were afternoon meetings, and 245 were evening fixtures between April and September – a period when floodlights are not needed due to the lighter nights. Before the emergence of floodlit racing, this is where the fixture list would have begun and ended. However, thanks to floodlighting, evening fixtures can now be held throughout the year, resulting in 178 floodlit meetings between September and April.

The average race meeting features a minimum of six races, meaning the additional floodlit fixtures equate to over 1,000 additional races per year – providing more opportunities for owners, trainers, and jockeys and generating increased revenue for the courses and bookmakers, which in turn feeds through to the sport as a whole.

Which Courses Have Floodlights?

Despite their obvious benefits, there are surprisingly few racecourses with floodlights. As of 2023, there are only five British tracks where these lights can be seen beaming into the night, with one Irish course chipping in to make a total of six in the whole of the UK and Ireland.

Chelmsford City

Chelmsford City Racecourse floodlights
Photo thanks to Chelmsford City

Formerly known as Great Leighs, this Essex all-weather track lasted less than a year under that title – opening in April 2008, only to close down again in January 2009. Thankfully, the operation has been running much more smoothly since the track reopened under its current title of Chelmsford City in 2015.

Operating right throughout the year, Chelmsford lays on close to 40 fixtures per season – around 70% of which take place under the lights. Headed into 2023 the course was all set to enter the racing record books, with the new turf track in line to stage the first-ever floodlit turf meeting in the UK.

Kempton Park

Kempton Racecourse floodlights
Photo thanks to Kempton Park

This Sunbury-On-Thames track is best known for the huge jumps event of the King George VI Chase, which lights up the festive season on Boxing Day each year. Given the high-profile nature of that event, it may be a surprise to learn that, of the 68 annual meetings at the track, only 11 are over jumps, with the remaining 57 taking place on the flat Polytrack All-Weather surface.

Of those 57, no fewer than 35 make use of the floodlights, which were first installed at the track alongside the synthetic surface in 2006. Kempton celebrated that switch from turf to an all-weather flat course by introducing a new Listed Class event – the appropriately named Floodlit Stakes making its debut in 2006.


Newcastle Racecourse floodlights
Photo thanks to Newcastle Racecourse

This venue at Gosforth Park in Newcastle has been entertaining the locals ever since it first opened for business in 1882. The home to the Northumberland Plate and Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Newcastle has been a turf-only course for most of its lifespan but underwent a significant facelift in 2016. The inner jumps course remained in place, but the flat turf track made way for a new Tapeta course, complete with the only straight all-weather mile in the country and extensive floodlighting throughout.

Taking advantage of its newfound ability to stage meetings right throughout the year, Newcastle is now one of the UK’s busiest courses – usually laying on over 70 fixtures per year, around half of which are floodlit evening meetings.


Southwell Racecourse floodlights
Photo thanks to Southwell Racecourse

First opening at the current site near Rolleston in Nottinghamshire in 1898, Southwell racecourse has grown to become one of the busiest tracks in the land, with close to 70 fixtures on offer each year. The National Hunt turf track stages a handful of meetings, but the bulk of the action takes place on the all-weather flat track.

Previously blighted by the problematic Fibresand surface, Southwell has enjoyed a resurgence since switching to Tapeta in 2021. Those wishing to sample the track’s excellent facilities under the lights aren’t short of options, with 28 of the 51 flat meetings on offer being floodlit affairs.


Wolverhampton Racecourse floodlights
Photo thanks to Wolverhampton Racecourse

There may now be five floodlit tracks on the British mainland, but the West Midlands course of Wolverhampton was the course which set the ball rolling – staging the UK’s first floodlit meeting in 1994. An all-weather-only course, the Dunstall Park venue previously featured a Polytrack surface but switched to Tapeta in 2014.

Other all-weather venues may be dual-purpose tracks, but Wolverhampton’s focus on the flat certainly hasn’t affected the number of fixtures, with around 80 meetings on offer each year. First onto the scene with floodlit racing, the course continues to lead the way in terms of numbers, with around 50 meetings held under the lights each season.


Dundalk Stadium floodlights
Photo thanks to Dundalk Stadium

Rounding out the list is Ireland’s only floodlit track. Situated in County Louth, Dundalk is a real hub of betting activity with the site featuring both a horse racing track and a greyhound stadium – both of which feature floodlights to illuminate the evening action.

One of the newer tracks on the list, Dundalk first opened for business in 2003 and immediately proved a big hit with local racegoers. As Ireland’s only all-weather course, Dundalk tends to attract excellent field sizes across each of its 43 annual meetings. Around three-quarters of those fixtures are evening floodlit meetings, with the regular Friday night series rarely failing to draw in the crowds.

Why Are There Floodlights at So Few Tracks?

Considering there are 59 racecourses spread up and down the British mainland, it seems strange that only five have opted to install floodlights, and that all five are all-weather courses. Of the six all-weather tracks in Britain, only Lingfield does not stage floodlit racing, with all of the track’s evening fixtures taking place during the lighter months of the year.

Whilst unusual at first glance, there are a couple of solid reasons for this situation. Firstly, 23 of the UK’s courses stage only jumps racing. Given the inherent risks of the National Hunt arm of the sport, the British Horse Racing Authority seems highly unlikely to sanction floodlit jumps racing. Excellent as modern floodlights are, they are still prone to uneven levels of light and unpredictable shadows – neither of which mixes well with trying to jump a fence at 40mph.

Secondly, 17 of the nation’s tracks are used only for flat turf racing and either predominantly or exclusively operate within the official flat season, which runs from May to October. Many of these tracks do stage evening fixtures, but the lighter nights mean there is no need for floodlights.

Of the 19 remaining tracks, 13 offer a mix of National Hunt and flat turf racing and therefore don’t use floodlights for each of the reasons explained above. All of this leaves the small pool of all-weather tracks as the only viable options for floodlit racing in the UK.