MUSSELBURGH Racecourse is celebrating its 200th birthday this year and is calling for help to mark the milestone.
Whether it’s old-fashioned photographs that have been lying in a loft for decades or treasured family heirlooms that have pride of place, track bosses will welcome them all.
They are searching for prestigious artefacts and memorabilia that will take visitors on a journey back to its past in a unique exhibition.
The horse-racing venue remains the second largest in Scotland – and the 14th biggest in the UK.
The first race was recorded in 1777 under the auspices of the Royal Caledonian Hunt, but between 1789 and 1816, race meetings were held on the sands at Leith.
In 1816, they returned permanently to Musselburgh to a course that was laid out for them by the town’s council.
On Friday, July 8, the course will be hosting a special race day to celebrate two centuries of history.
Sarah Montgomery, senior operations and commercial manager at Musselburgh Racecourse, said: “We will work with Musselburgh Museum to pull together the most vivid, colourful and insightful picture of the part this racecourse has played in this community for the past 200 years.
“The racecourse is embedded in the fabric of Edinburgh and East Lothian and has touched countless lives over the years, from racing enthusiasts to those who are involved in racing and those who have worked here.
“We want to hear as many stories as possible so are calling out to anyone across central Scotland and beyond to share any Musselburgh Racecourse memorabilia they have to help contribute to this endeavour.
“That could include anything and everything from old photos and paintings to vintage programmes and betting slips.
“Others may have trophies, racing silks, saddles, farrier’s tools or even horseshoes which have been handed down through the generations. This is such a massive year for Musselburgh Racecourse that we want as many people as possible to be involved in telling the story of the racecourse right up to the present day.”
Dubbed the ‘sport of kings’, horse racing was once the preserve of the wealthy and the aristrocracy. It has entertained people for centuries and was particularly popular in post-war Britain, when horse races were the only event at which legal bets could be placed.
Musselburgh Racecourse’s long history has provided a wealth of memorable events, including world-class horses and jockeys.
In 1968, Make Whoopee with lightweight jockey Norman McIntosh won “with a late run” by half a length over the favourite.
In 1959, Lester Piggott unexpectedly won the Edinburgh Gold Cup on his horse, Illinois, even though it was his first visit to the course.
The venue survived the dark days of the 1980s and 90s, when falling crowds led to failing racecourses and could have seen its demise.
Following a partnership agreement between the Lothians Racing Syndicate and East Lothian Council, the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee was formed, which succeeded in bringing the course back from the brink.
In 1999, annual attendance was below 40,000, but today more than 70,000 visitors a year attend racing events at Musselburgh. In the last decade, more than £6 million has been invested in facilities – including building the Queen’s Stand, which the Queen later declared officially open during a visit to Musselburgh Racecourse in 1995.
It also includes the refurbishment of the Edwardian grandstand, a new parade ring, weighing room, the Links Pavilion main entrance and state-of-the-art stables.
Musselburgh Racecourse has always been popular with racing enthusiasts, but it is now becoming a draw for both families and corporate clients.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the planned exhibition has until Friday, June 17 to take part. Offerings can be dropped off at Musselburgh Museum any Thursday to Saturday from 10.30am to 4pm. Further details can be found at www.musselburghmuseum.org.uk.