Kempton Park Racecourse Guide
Of the 60 racecourses spread throughout the British mainland, one of the very best dual-purpose venues is to be found in Sunbury-on-Thames, around 16 miles to the southwest of London city centre. One of only three UK tracks to offer both a National Hunt turf course and an all-weather flat track, this popular course has been staging racing events since the late 19th century and continues to go from strength to strength. Plans to close it and build on the highly valuable land have been shelved for now and hopefully this popular track has many more years of top racing ahead of it.
Taking full advantage of the proximity to the capital city that makes the area so prized, Kempton’s combination of top-class facilities, excellent atmosphere, and high-quality action – including one of the most prestigious contests of the entire National Hunt season – rarely fails to draw in the crowds. Here we take a closer look at the home of the King George, including information for visitors and an outline of the track’s biggest events.
Kempton Park Christmas Festival
For sports fans, there are two things which immediately spring to mind concerning Boxing Day. A full Premier League fixture list is always a welcome accompaniment to the leftover Christmas Pudding, but even more ingrained as a feature of the festive season, certainly for racing fans, is Kempton’s huge Christmas Festival.
What is the Christmas Festival?
In the world of National Hunt racing, there are few horses so beloved by the racing public as the staying chaser, those stamina-laden stars who lay it all on the line over three miles and beyond, and return year after year to do it all over again. The Cheltenham Gold Cup may be the pinnacle of the division, but not too far behind it is the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Attracting chasing superstars from both sides of the Irish Sea, the race which represents one of the crown jewels of the National Hunt season is the inspiration behind what is by some distance Kempton’s flagship fixture.
- The Christmas Festival is held over two days, taking place on the 26th and 27th of December every year.
- There are a total of 12 races held throughout the meeting.
- Five Graded contests are included amongst that dozen, including a trio of Grade 1 events.
- The big one comes on Boxing Day, with the King George VI Chase lighting up a card which also includes the Grade 1 duo of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase and Christmas Hurdle.
- The action then drops down a notch on Day 2, but only a little, with the Grade 2 double bill of the Desert Orchid Chase and Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase providing the highlights.
- The King George VI Chase has been won by many of the most famous horses in the history of the sport, including Arkle, Desert Orchid, and Kauto Star, who came home in front on no fewer than five occasions.
- Over 20,000 racegoers make their way to the track on Boxing Day, with tickets regularly selling out well in advance.
- Offering £250,000 in total prize money, the King George VI Chase is amongst the most valuable National Hunt contests of the season
Visiting Kempton Races
One of the busiest tracks in the land thanks to the steady stream of all-weather flat fixtures throughout the winter months, racegoers looking to pay a visit to the Sunbury-on-Thames venue certainly aren’t short of options. Looking to make the trip to London’s local track? The following information may come in handy.
- Location – The course sits in 210 acres of countryside close to the Surrey town of Sunbury-on-Thames.
- Address – Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road E, Sunbury-on-Thames, TW16 5AQ.
- Contact details – email: Kempton.firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: 01932 782 Twitter: @Kemptonparkrace.
- Tickets – There are three main enclosures in operation at Kempton. These being – in ascending price order – The Festival Enclosure, Paddock Enclosure and Premier Enclosure. See the track’s official sitef or the latest prices.
- Dress code – Whilst there is no strict dress code in place at Kempton, smart dress is preferable. The track requests that racegoers do not arrive in ripped denim, sports shirts, or flip flops.
- Transport – Less than a mile from Junction 1 of the M3, the track is easily reachable by road, with parking available at the course. The track boasts its own on-site train station, located close to the North entrance, and is frequently served by trains from London Waterloo.
- Accommodation – A number of options are available within five miles of the course, including a Holiday Inn and Esher Place, and of course London offers literally hundreds of hotels from which to select.
- Hospitality – Kempton provides a wide range of hospitality packages at the site’s excellent panoramic restaurant, with a selection of private boxes also being available. See the track’s official website for full details.
- Food and Drink – Food and drink options are available in all enclosures, with the main Grandstand’s Food Court providing a variety of cuisines. Alcoholic refreshment can be found in the Kings of Kempton Bar and Sports Bar, in addition to a diverse selection of mobile vendors.
A relatively new track in comparison to many UK courses, Kempton Park is nevertheless rapidly closing in on 150 years of operation. A mere baby! Despite that short (at least by the standards of UK racing) lifespan, the Sunbury-on-Thames venue has enjoyed an eventful time of things, overcoming adversity on more than one occasion.
The Realisation of a Dream
Long holding the ambition to build his own racecourse, it was in 1872 that a gentleman by the name of Mr Samuel H Hyde first purchased the park, with work soon getting underway in building the track.
On the 18th of July 1878, Mr Hyde’s dream became reality as Kempton Park staged its very first meeting. Long associated with racing during the holiday season, it was the Easter period for which the track was best known in the early days, with the two-day fixture taking place over Easter Saturday and Easter Monday featuring several notable contests, including trials for both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas.
Royal Visits, Fire, and the War
Soon beginning to grow in popularity and profile, 1889 saw the Prince of Wales announce he would be paying a visit to the course. This was an announcement which sparked the building of a Royal Box, which the track managed to complete in the space of 21 days – just in time for the prince’s arrival.
1932 then marked the track’s first spell of hardship, as a significant fire caused extensive damage to the grandstand and many of the facilities. Soon back on its feet, 1937 saw the birth of the track’s most famous race, as the King George VI Chase – named in honour of the new British monarch – took place for the first time.
Much like many tracks in the land, the global conflicts in the first half of the 20th Century had a significant impact on Kempton Park; the track was put to use as a depot for military vehicles during WWI and a Prisoner of War camp in WWII.
The Oldest Track in the Modern Era
Despite the fires and wars of years gone by, the track has perhaps never come so close to closure as it has in recent years. A 2017 announcement declared that Kempton would indeed face demolition, in order to facilitate the building of 3,000 new homes – a potentially sad end to this historical course, and the excellent All-Weather track built in 2005 at a cost of £18.78m.
Thankfully for racing fans, a reversal of this decision saw a scaled-down approach adopted, enabling 550 new homes in the area, but leaving the racing unaffected. With its excellent facilities, including the upgraded grandstand that opened in 1997, and the floodlit capability of the all-weather track, Kempton continues to be one of the staples of the racing season, offering quality action all year round.
Other Meetings & Races At Kempton
The Boxing Day bonanza featuring the King George is undoubtedly the meeting for which the track is best known, with the famous contest being one of only a handful of jumps events which attracts the attention of even non-racing fans.
That festive treat is far from the only show in town though, with the Surrey track laying on over 60 race days throughout the season. Mid-level handicapping fare makes up the bulk of the fixture list, but there are numerous quality fixtures scattered throughout, with the following three in particular regularly drawing in the crowds.
Besides the showpiece Christmas meeting, the greatest concentration of Graded class jumping action is to be found at this February fixture which crams four contests at Grade 3 level or above into a seven-race card. The Grade 2 trio of the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, Pendil Novices’ Chase and Adonis Juvenile Hurdle regularly provide an early sighting of a future star, but it is the Grade 3 Handicap of the Coral Trophy which is the major betting heat at this late winter highlight.
Silviniaco Conti Chase Day
Come home in front in the King George VI Chase on more than one occasion, and chances are you will have a race named after you. Taking place on a punter-friendly Saturday afternoon in January each year, the 2m4f½ headline act of this fixture is named in honour of the Paul Nicholls-trained star who won back-to-back editions of the King George in 2013 and 2014. With the Listed class Lanzarote Hurdle heading up the undercard, this is comfortably one of the most popular meetings at the track.
September Stakes Day
The pick of Kempton’s many flat fixtures comes at the beginning of September, at this Saturday evening meeting which features the Group 3 double header of the September Stakes headline act, and the Sirenia Stakes. The good times then continue late into the night, with live music after the racing at a fixture that benefits from a real party atmosphere and regularly sells out.
Biggest Races at Kempton
Kempton will of course forever be associated with the King George VI Chase, but that is far from the only quality contest on offer, with a total of 12 events at the track rated at Group or Graded level.
- King George VI Chase, King George Meeting – Grade 1, 3m
- Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, King George Meeting – Grade 1, 3m
- Christmas Hurdle, King George Meeting – Grade 1, 2m
- Silviniaco Conti Chase, January – Grade 2, 2m4f110y
- Adonis Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle, February – Grade 2, 2m
- Pendil Novices’ Chase, February – Grade 2, 2m4f110y
- Dovecote Novices Hurdle, February – Grade 2, 2m
- Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, King George Meeting -Grade 2, 2m
- Desert Orchid Chase, King George Meeting – Grade 2, 2m
- Coral Trophy Handicap Chase, February – Grade 3, 3m
- September Stakes, September – Group 3, 1m4f
- Sirenia Stakes, September – Group 3, 1m4f
Kempton’s 1m5f right-handed National Hunt circuit is broadly triangular, featuring three straight sections, and three bends of varying severity, with that which leads out of the home straight being the sharpest. Almost completely flat, barring a slightly inclining home straight, the course favours speed over stamina on good or better ground. Things change in soft or heavy going however as, despite regularly being well grouped at the beginning of the home straight, the field is invariably strung out by the line, as the generally fast pace of races around here and the uphill finish take their toll.
Runners tackling the chase course face a total of nine stiff but fair obstacles per circuit, with the final three coming in the home straight before a run-in of close to a furlong. Races over the smaller obstacles feature six flights per circuit, with the same 1f run-in after the last. In general, Kempton favours bold jumping prominent racers, but it is crucial the jockeys get the fractions right – particularly should the word soft enter the going description.
Kempton’s all-weather Polytrack surface is laid out in the shape of a standard right-handed oval but features two separate bends leading from the backstretch into the home straight, creating an inner and an outer track. The innermost of the two bends is used for events over 5f, 1m1f and 1m2f creating a sharp track with a run-in of under two furlongs which favours speedy prominent racers.
Events over all other distances utilise the outer track which, with a more gradual turn for home and 3f home straight is much the fairer of the two courses. Front runners can still go well on the outer track but are under more pressure to judge the pace correctly, with that long straight giving hold-up horses more opportunity to run them down.
Those drawn low enjoy an edge over trips of up to a mile, after which point the bias seems to even out. Surprisingly in 1m2f events, it is the high-drawn runners who boast the best record.