Racing is drawing in record crowds – with more than 6.15million visits to courses last year.

For the third year running, the number of people going racing across the country has risen, with the 6m mark being reached in 2011 for the first time since 2004.

And last year’s total is the highest figure since records were started in 1955.

But although numbers attending Flat racing rose, gates at National Hunt fixtures fell by more than 3%.

A spokesman for the Racecourse Association (RCA) told H&H this could be attributed to bad weather forcing the cancellation of fixtures or putting punters off.

“To break the record is fantastic,” said Stephen Atkin of the RCA.

“Financially, it is a very difficult time so it is a vindication of the exemplary work being done on Britain’s racecourses.”

The newly formed QIPCO British Champions Series proved a hit, culminating with QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October.

Boosted by the appearance of super colt Frankel, the series attracted more than 26,000 racegoers to the course.

Racing for Change hosted a free racing month in April and non-racing fans were attracted by a host of post-racing concerts.

But this begs the question: are these repeat customers or just one-offs who weren’t really there to see the horses?

“The latest figures were helped by good weather, but the racecourses have also been promoting the sport very effectively and we hope our efforts are also making an important contribution,” said Rod Street from Racing for Change.

“The ‘Free Racing Month’ brought an additional 63,000 people through the turnstiles, over half of whom were new to the sport or infrequent racegoers.

“Our research showed that over 80 per cent of them intend to come again.”

Julie Harding, editor of H&H’s sister title Eventing, went to Shergar Cup day at Ascot, which hosted a 1980s concert featuring Jason Donovan and Paul Young in the evening.

“It was a birthday present for my husband – we paid only £35 each premier admission and our four children went free,” she said.

“I think other sports could learn such a lot from what racing is doing in terms of family entertainment. It was packed, but an amazing and friendly atmosphere.

“We are all really keen to go back again this year.”

This news story was first published in the current issue of H&H (2 February 2012)