From Cold War casualty to Germany’s most dynamic racecourse
The rebirth of Hoppegarten
A brief history of Berlin-Hoppegarten racecourse
In 1829 Berlin became the second German city to stage thoroughbred racing. About 12 miles east of the city centre, Hoppegarten was the chosen location for a new green field racing and training centre and opened in 1868. Both the race course and the training grounds were continually improved and expanded. Hoppegarten soon became the centre of German racing, similar to Newmarket, Chantilly or The Curragh. All classic races, with the exception of the German Derby, were run at Hoppegarten, as well as most other major races in the German calendar. Until 1945 Hoppegarten was the leading national training center with about 1000 horses.
No other sport suffered more than horse racing from the division of Germany and Berlin. In 1945 Hoppegarten found itself behind the Iron Curtain. Champion racehorses were moved to new stables in West Germany by their capitalist owners, whilst racing fans amongst the two million West Berliners could no longer visit their track. German racing had lost its “Headquarters”. Racing continued through the communist era with about twenty meetings per year but crowds never reached the pre-war numbers.
Post the fall of the wall the initial euphoria and attempts to restore Hoppegarten to its prewar eminence proved short lived. The turning point came when Federal government decided to privatize Hoppegarten by public tender. In 2008 racing fan Gerhard Schöningh became the new owner and racecourse chairman. A new chapter began as the track became Germany’s only privately owned and operated racecourse. Schöningh, like any visitor to Hoppegarten, was inspired by the expansive, almost minimalist green of the racetrack, the four large stands dating from the “Golden Twenties” and the acres of sparkling white gravel under groups of mature trees in the public enclosures: “At Hoppegarten you can touch and feel history. When I used to ask people in West Berlin about Hoppegarten everyone knew the name. A typical answer to what people know about Hoppegarten would be: “Something with horses, old, my granddad used to go there.” But hardly anyone had actually been there. I found this a very exciting opportunity – an iconic venue whose sport had been unknown to two million West Berliners for over a generation.”
Over the last seven years the team at Hoppegarten has been working hard to revive this important historic racing and training facility. Firstly, a lot of money went into creating attractive, value for money facilities for all target groups from families to corporate partners. Secondly the quality of the racing was improved significantly – 9 of the 11 Hoppegarten meetings now boast a feature race of national or international importance. In 2011 the Group 1 Berlin Grand Prix (Grosser Preis von Berlin), a top level international Championship race, returned to its birth place Hoppegarten for the first time since 1944. The race could not have had a more prolific winner than German star filly DANEDREAM. She went on to win racing’s most coveted international prizes such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. International trainers André Fabre and Luca Cumani won the Group 1 with MEANDRE (2012) and SECOND STEP (2015) respectively. Thirdly Hoppegarten brought across the message that the track now stages major sporting events that are an exciting and fun day out for everyone. Engagement with the regional media and creative cross promotions and co-operations were instrumental here.
Significant investments were made into Hoppegarten’s training facilities. Completely separate from the racecourse and incorporating over 300 acres of woodland with 10 km of walking and trotting ground the facilities are second to none in Germany. Until 1945 the German Champion trainer was based in Hoppegarten in most years. In 2012 local trainer Roland Dzubasz achieved the feat of becoming the first German Champion Trainer from Hoppegarten in reunited Germany. In 2013 the Hoppegarten trainers had their best ever season since 1990. For the second year in a row the top two year old came from Hoppegarten. Hoppegarten horses achieved a record result in Group and Listed races with seven wins and seven places.
In only seven years Hoppegarten has seen spectacular growth and advanced from being an “also ran” ranking seventh amongst the big German racetracks to number three. Betting per race is up by over 50% and visitor numbers have doubled. The big days now regularly see crowds well above 10,000. In July 2013 Hoppegarten was granted the status of a “Landmark of National Importance” by the Federal Government. A multi-year investment programme co-funded by the public sector started immediately and architectural gems like the 1920s bandstand and the 1950s judge’s tower can be seen in their freshly renovated glory, whilst a major stand will see its renovation completed during the 2017 season.
Schöningh says: “Everyone in racing and in Berlin knows that the rebirth of Germany’s best race track and training centre could only have happened because of the fall of the Wall. Hoppegarten is freely accessible again to visitors and top horses from anywhere in Berlin, Germany and from abroad. I am confident that Hoppegarten will continue to grow strongly and become the leading German racing and training centre once again.”
Historic 430-acre Neuenhagen training track purchased in 2015
The Neuenhagen training track covers an area of 430 acres (training track and in-field 190 acres, woodland 100 acres, agricultural land 78 acres). The track is located only two km from Hoppegarten racecourse and 18 km from the centre of Berlin. Large areas of the estate are subject to nature and historic interest preservation orders. Until the post 1945 division of Germany Neuenhagen boasted the best turf gallops in Germany.
Following the privatisation of Hoppegarten racecourse and the Bollensdorf training track (518 acres in total) in 2008 the Neuenhagen training track was under threat of being lost to racing. Having secured this strategic asset on the outskirts of Berlin, racecourse owner Gerhard Schöningh intends to develop the training track into a state of the art racehorse training facility, together with suitable partners.
Built in 1910, the Neuenhagen training track boasts three oval turf tracks between 16 and 24 metres wide, with a total length of nearly 9,000 metres. Two tracks originally used to be watered. In addition, there is a 3,400 metre long dirt track. These facilities were unique in Germany and highly acclaimed by international experts in the 1930s who compared them favourably to the training facilities at Chantilly and Newmarket at that time. Until 1945 Neuenhagen was used by about 200 horses from top racing yards Schlenderhan, Graditz and Waldfried. Legendary racehorses like OLEANDER (Germany’s first Arc runner in 1928) and SCHWARZGOLD were trained here. They and many others became cornerstones of the German breeding industry.
From 1945 until 1990, under the communist regime, racehorse ownership was nationalised and horses of publicly owned racing yards like Graditz, Görlsdorf and Hoppegarten exercised on the track, including FAKTOTUM (East German Triple Crown and Moscow Gold Cup winner). Today about 40 racehorses, including some trotters still use the track on a regular basis.
Schöningh says: “My ambition is to restore racing and training at Hoppegarten and Neuenhagen to its historic number one position in Germany. The dynamic capital Berlin provides us with a good backdrop for this plan. Securing this historic and well-located track for the future will benefit racing in Germany and is an important part of this strategy.”