Given that Fontwell itself is a merely small village, you could easily be forgiven for not being able to find it on a map. It is worth knowing its location though as Fontwell Park is an excellent racecourse and one that finds itself on the doorstep of some wonderful West Sussex countryside. The course itself only hosts jumps racing but it does so both during and outside of the regular National Hunt season. You will find racing all year round as a result with 22 meetings spaced throughout the calendar.
The area surrounding Fontwell Park is bursting with so much natural beauty. Just to the north, you have the wonderful South Downs National Park while to the south you can enjoy the sights and smells of the British coastline. With various attractions nearby, it can be tempting to stick around for a little while, rather than just coming solely for the racing.
For anyone after the absolute minimum of fuss, staying within walking distance of the course means you do not need to worry about traffic jams or sudden mechanical problems. Fontwell itself is not a big place but is home to two very similarly named Travelodges. Closest to the course, practically next door is the Travelodge Arundel Fontwell Park. This hotel sits right beside the main entrance to the course, so close that is very literally a stone’s throw away.
A mere five-minute walk away is where you can find the Travelodge Arundel Fontwell, so the same name minus the ‘Park’. This is another incredibly convenient and affordable option for anyone wanting to stay close to the racecourse.
Chichester or Arundel for Nearby Attractions
With Fontwell located virtually slap bang in the middle of Chichester and Arundel, you are only a 10-minute drive from either. Chichester is home to a magnificent cathedral and the Fishbourne Roman Palace as well as several places to stay. Within the centre of the city, you have a Premier Inn and a Travelodge plus independent establishments like The George and The Dragon Inn, The Vestry Hotel and The Chichester Inn.
Arundel lacks Chichester’s hustle and bustle but is where you will find the incredibly popular Arundel Castle and Gardens. The town attracts plenty of tourists as a result and for this reason it has several hotels with the St Mary’s Gate Inn, the Townhouse and the Swan being the most well-regarded options.
Bognor Regis for a Seaside Stay
As Fontwell Park does host some racing during the summer, Bognor Regis is a place you may wish to consider staying. It is only a 15-minute drive from the racecourse and it will provide you with a most traditional seaside retreat. Hotels are not in abundant supply in the area but do take a look at the Navigator, the Claremont Inn and the Best Western Beachcroft Hotel.
About the Racecourse
Although there is very limited competition for the title, Fontwell Park still deserves some credit for being voted the Best Small Racecourse in the South East for 19 successive years. Perhaps more impressive is that they once scooped the Neil Wyatt Groundstaff Award for the Best Kept National Hunt course. This was all the way back in 2002 mind you and Roger Mant, head groundsman at the time, has since retired.
Do not think for a moment there has been a deterioration in standards at Fontwell Park since though as it remains a charming and well-maintained home of racing. There is no need to simply take our word for it though, with over 20 meetings per year there is always an opportune moment to visit for yourself. If you do not drive, making the journey is possible via a combination of trains and buses. Going by train, you will want to head to Barnham station. Despite Barnham’s small size, many trains stop here every hour including those departing from major destinations such as Southampton, Portsmouth, Brighton and London Bridge.
From Barnham station, you will then just need to take advantage of the complimentary shuttle bus service provided by the racecourse. The bus will collect continuously between the opening of the gates and the time of the first race before dropping off between the penultimate race and 30 minutes after the last race.
If driving, the course is very conveniently located just off the A27/A29 roundabout between Chichester and Arundel. The main car park, which is where most visitors head, is found down Fontwell Avenue with the entrance around 300 yards from the roundabout. Type in BN17 0SY as the target postcode for this car park. If you are instead aiming for the centre course car pack, BN18 0SX is the postcode you will need.
Fontwell Park is the last remaining figure-of-eight track in the country. Only steeplechases are run in a figure eight though as hurdles races take place on the more straightforward oval course. For chasers, the unique shape of the course means turning in both directions and this is something that suits some horses more than others. Some jockeys will tell you that certain nags are more ‘switched-on’ to the difference whereas others seem to lose their way a little.
Turning both left and right is something horses would not face elsewhere, so they can be forgiven for being a little confused. The same can also be said for those that mistakenly exit the course before the finishing line during hurdles races. The paddock exit connects to the finishing straight and horses have been known to head this way rather than carrying on straight to the winning post. Our advice, therefore, would be never to celebrate too soon.
In most areas of Fontwell Park there is no dress code enforced as they simply want racegoers to feel comfortable. Non-offensive fancy dress is even allowed in the Grandstand and Paddock enclosure and it is something of which you will see a fair amount on some racedays, especially the St Patrick’s meeting. If you prefer to fit in rather than stand out though, then you should adopt a smart-casual approach.
Rules only really apply in the hospitality suites and the Premier Enclosure. For both, men should come in a collared shirt (tie optional) and a smart pair of trousers. This can include smart jeans providing they are not ripped or torn. Fancy dress is not permitted inside these areas, nor are trainers, sportswear, beachwear or non-tailored shorts.
Fontwell is extremely well equipped when it comes to stands, having no fewer than four of them. The three that are further down the home straight are fairly similar in size and appearance. As far as stands go there is nothing too flashy about them but they do provide sheltered standing for a considerable number of spectators. Each grandstand is also equipped with a bar so you can easily get a drink without having to move far. The other remaining stand, located alongside the winning post, is the impressive Winner Premiere Grandstand, which features two wide glass balconies overlooking the track.
These balconies provide spectators with the best view of the action at Fontwell Park but there is also some space underneath for those that want to get as close as possible to the horses. While so many stands may seem excessive, Fontwell does see many attend certain meetings and for these, they need all the available space. A standard admission ticket here will usually set you back around £24 when booked in advance (under 18s get in free with a paying adult) although look out for the January sales. Fontwell has been known to offer a £10 discount on all Grandstand Admission tickets across the year if purchased in January.
A regular Premier ticket booked in advance will cost £29 but expect to pay a little more than this if you do not buy before you show up. Should you want the five-star treatment, which you will get with a Premier Lounge Restaurant ticket, these are usually around £100 for adults and half the price for under 18s. Included with this are a fine three-course meal and your own private table.
The first big meeting of the calendar year at Fontwell is National Sprint Hurdle day. With Grade 2 status, it is comfortably the highest class race that features at the course, as well as being the richest. A genuinely big race in its own right, it attracts a good crowd, especially among racing enthusiasts. St Patrick’s Raceday in March is the next major meeting, although less so because of the racing itself. For this occasion, Fontwell puts on live music, as well as Six Nations rugby, to create a meeting with plenty of Irish cheer.
Skip forward to August and there’s a meeting that many ladies pay special attention to. Dubbed the most glamorous event in Fontwell’s calendar, Ladies Evening brings plenty of style and glitz to the racecourse. Although no incentive is really needed, a Style Awards competition will be in place to reward the best dressed in attendance. Lastly, there is the Southern National day in November which is a real racing delight thanks to the gruelling steeplechase (run over three miles and three furlongs) after which the day is named.
If you are looking to attend Fontwell as a family, we would point you to the various ‘family friendly’ meetings held across the year. The particular highlight of these is April’s Easter Eggstravaganza, which is sure to keep the little ones thoroughly entertained.
A racehorse trainer by the name of Alfred Day took a leading role in the foundation of Fontwell Park. He first moved to the area, to train horses, and noticed on a 1630-drawn map there was a reference to ‘Fontwell’. This happened to be the name of the spring that sat in front of his home, the only watering-hole nearby, of which the Romans called ‘fons’. It was passing monks that added the ‘well’ part and Day brought the name Fontwell back into usage.
Day came from a family that had been involved in racing for generations. Although not a major player, he did have a knack for picking up horses on the cheap and making them win decent races. One horse that he picked up for £20, ended up attracting an offer of £700 but Day rejected it, only for the horse to die the next week.
1924: First Meeting
Over the years, Day was able to purchase more local land and this allowed him, with the backing of the local gentry, to create Fontwell Racecourse. His budget for land could only stretch so far though and the limited space meant designing the steeplechase course as a figure eight. Masses attended the first meeting held on 21st May 1924. Those who paid for membership at the course, in addition to the racing, could also enjoy some picturesque gardens and a maze similar to the one in Versailles.
The inaugural race in 1924 was won by champion jockey Fred Rees and it proved to be an exciting start of a two-day meeting. There was an additional two days of racing scheduled later in the year but due to Fontwell’s popularity, more meetings were gradually added as the years went on. Typically, these fresh fixtures appeared as either one or two day meetings in the spring or autumn.
New Owners & Investments
A few decades on and there was talk of Goodwood buying the now well-established Fontwell Park. It was, however, instead bought by Plumpton Racecourse owner and top divorce solicitor, Isidore Kerman. Following his death in 1998, his son Andy took charge somewhat briefly before selling the course to Northern Racing in 2002. Northern Racing later merged with the Arena Racing Company and this has enabled plenty of investment at the course in recent years.