Kempton Park Racecourse is a historic venue with a very modern outlook on racing. Kempton has been through some very tough times in the past but is now arguably the best racecourse in London and the surrounding areas. Home to world-class jumps and all-weather racing and very easy to get to, Kempton continues to go from strength to strength.
Kempton Park is one of several racecourses on the outskirts of London. That opens up a city’s worth of hotels and other accommodation options to racegoers. There are also some very good options in the local vicinity for people who want to be able to roll out of bed and straight to the course.
The two closest hotels to Kempton Racecourse are handily both budget-friendly establishments. Both the Travelodge Sunbury and the Premier Inn Sunbury are just a few minutes’ walk away from the racecourse entrance. Due to this, they can fill up quickly ahead of a big race meeting, so if you are looking to stay locally, be sure to book ahead of the crowds. If you’re looking for something with a little more character, Walton-on-Thames is only a mile and half away with some lovely accommodation including the Weir Hotel and the Flower Pot standout options.
South West London & Surrey
Visitors to Kempton Park who are coming from further afield may wish to broaden their horizons beyond Sunbury. Leafy south-west London and Surrey are full of a variety of places to stay the night, which are served by very good transport links. To the east of the racecourse you have towns like Twickenham, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond. There all have various options to suit most budgets.
The west of Kempton Park isn’t quite as full of accommodation but options are by no means lacking. Whether it’s commuter towns such as Woking, Staines or Slough each with big chain hotels and Airbnb stays, or countryside stays at golf courses and health spas, racegoers won’t go short no matter what they’re looking for.
Of course, the other accommodation option for Kempton Park is London. The sprawling city contains everything from the grandest five-star hotel to the most humble bed and breakfast. Staying in London does come with extra travel time on trains which can get very busy on race days but the journey time from London Waterloo is only 44 minutes and a ticket costs only £8.
About the Racecourse
Kempton Park is situated in the Surrey town of Sunbury-on-Thames. Like much of the surrounding area, Sunbury-on-Thames is home to thousands of people who commute into London for work. These strong transport links are crucial for Kempton Park as it is easy for racegoers to get to the course from London and elsewhere on the day of a race meeting.
These transport links are well used by racegoers all year round as Kempton is a busy course. In addition to some extremely high-level jumps racing, Kempton is home to an excellent Polytrack all-weather course. This combination sees racing fans flock to Kempton all year round for daytime and evening meetings with the transport links holding up very well.
Arrivals by train are served by Kempton Park railway station with its regular service to and from London Waterloo. Trains from London take just under three quarters of an hour. Many racing fans travel to the course via car and although they often have to deal with the overspill of London traffic, it is easy enough to get to the course which is around a mile away from Junction 1 of the M3. There is ample parking at the course, sometimes for free but there is a £5 fee for the highest-profile meetings.
As with the rest of this part of south-west London and Surrey, you cannot escape the flight path of planes into Heathrow at Kempton. The proximity of Britain’s biggest airport is a further boon to Kempton as the journey for international travellers is as easy as can be.
Kempton Park has two very distinct courses, which must be considered separately. The first course is the jumps course, which is regarded as one of the fairest in the country. The fences are easy compared to other courses, the track is largely flat and the right-handed turns aren’t overly sharp. There are a few quirks such as the short run to the winning post from the final fence and the places where the Polytrack course crosses the turf. It’s also worth noting that heavy ground poses a particularly tough test of stamina.
Like the jumps course, the all-weather track at Kempton is flat and generally known for being fair. The oval track features two ovals with a shorter layout featuring sharper turns. Although the outer track is more sweeping in nature, both tracks favour fast, front running types largely because the finishing straight is relatively short at two furlongs on the inner track and three furlongs on the outer. An inner draw is preferable especially on the inner track. The grounds team at Kempton almost always produce standard going but it can be quite slow in wetter weather.
Kempton Park does a lot of work to ensure racegoers are as comfortable as possible when they visit the track. That extends to the dress code. Although Kempton would prefer smart dress, there is no compulsory dress code. The course’s website does request that racegoers refrain from wearing ripped denim, flip flops or football shirts and prefer smarter dress for the bigger meetings. It’s the same story in the hospitality boxes and the restaurant where smart casual is advised but is not a requirement of entry.
As befitting London’s premier racecourse, Kempton Park provides a lot of choice for racegoers. There are two main enclosures that racing fans can access with their tickets. The first of these is the Festival Enclosure. This area is the furthest from the racing but does provide very good views of the home straight with covered seating and a range of food and drink options. The second is the Paddock Enclosure which provides closer views of the winning post. Tickets give racegoers access to the ground floor of the Grandstand, the pre-parade ring, parade ring and winner’s enclosure. As with the Festival Enclosure there are standing and seating options. It’s important to note that racegoers cannot swap between the two enclosures during the day.
The Premier Enclosure is situated on the first floor of the Grandstand and provides excellent views of the racing. In addition to access to all the public areas of the course such as the winner’s enclosure and betting ring, there are some very good food and drink options that come with a Premier Enclosure ticket. Kempton offers an addition to the Premier Enclosure with the option to reserve a premier seat underneath the cover of the main Grandstand canopy.
For a more exclusive way to enjoy the racing, Kempton offers the Kauto Club. Named after the legendary Kauto Star who won the King George Chase five times, tickets to the Kauto Club include access to a private bar and betting facilities and excellent food and drink facilities. Although there are no racecourse views from the Kauto Club, access to the parade ring and racecourse is quick and easy.
Finally, Kempton has ample hospitality options for corporate racegoers or just those looking for a special day out. The Panoramic Bar and Restaurant provides a full à la carte menu and the very best views of the racecourse of any seats. The other option is booking a private box which is as exclusive and high class a way to attend the racing as you would expect.
Kempton Park hosts two distinctly different types of horse racing over the course of the year. For many racing fans, the pick of the racing at Kempton takes place over obstacles. The National Hunt season at Kempton revolves around the Christmas Festival, which always begins on Boxing Day. The course’s biggest race, the King George VI Chase, takes place on the first day of the meeting but there are other Graded races and competitive handicaps throughout the jumps season.
The other type of racing at Kempton takes place on the all-weather circuit. The addition of the Polytrack circuit in 2006 has proven to be a real boon to Kempton, which hosts some of the best all-weather racing anywhere in Britain. Major meetings include September Stakes Day that also features the London Mile Handicap, the final of a series that stretches over several months.
Christmas is one of the busiest periods of the year in the world of horse racing at Kempton plays a vitally important role in it with the Christmas Festival. The two-day meeting always starts on Boxing Day (26 December) with a high-quality card including three Grade 1 races, the King George VI Chase, the Christmas Hurdle and the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. The crowds then return the following day for another festive feast that features the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chas and the Desert Orchid Chase.
Lanzarote Hurdle Day
What better way could there be to kick off the New Year than with a trip to Kempton for an excellent day of jumps racing? That’s what thousands of racing fans decide as they head to Kempton’s first meeting of the year. The meeting takes place at the end of the first full week of January and while it is relaxed in the grandstands, it is strictly business on the course with co-feature races being the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase alongside the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle itself.
Kempton Park Chase Day
Jumps racing fans tend to be hardy souls as the weather is often anything but pleasant during the season. Falling in February, Kempton Park Chase Day often comes with the most testing weather of the season at Kempton but anybody put off by the weather quickly has their minds changed by a day of racing that includes the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, the Pendil Novices’ Chase and the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle. This is a day that has a habit of throwing up some useful clues ahead of the following month’s Cheltenham Festival.
September Stakes Day
The September Stakes and Sirenia Stakes are the big races on this important single day meeting at Kempton. As the Flat racing season begins to enter its final throws, this is a big day for horses who are due to have a busy and hopefully successful winter on the all-weather. Both the feature races are Group 3 contests which attract high-class entries while the London Mile Series Final is always an exciting handicap for punters.
The idea for a racecourse at Kempton Park is credited to Samuel Henry Hyde. The local businessman bought the park in 1872 with a dream of hosting racing on the site. With a lot of money and six years of work, Kempton Park Racecourse was ready to host its first meeting in 1878. The popularity of the course grew steadily over the following years and received royal approval when the Prince of Wales visited in 1889, enjoying the racing from the specially constructed Royal Box.
Kempton’s growth was interrupted by the First World War. The site was requisitioned by the state to become a hub for moving military vehicles. During this time, the nearby courses at Gatwick, Hurst Park and Sandown took on Kempton’s fixture list. Kempton was used for military purposes again during the Second World War, this time to hold prisoners of war who could be easily taken to the site due to the rail links.
1932: Fire Damage
The interwar periods were not quiet at Kempton. In 1932, a large fire broke out at the course causing extensive damage to several areas of the course. The fire was the second to break out at Kempton in a month and as precautions were taken after the first to stop accidental fires, there is a suggestion of arson although that has never been proven.
It was only a fortunate change in the wind direction that saved the main grandstand from the 1932 fire but after WWII the decision was taken to replace the grandstand and many other areas of the course as part of necessary renovations due to the damage of the war years. There was no major work done to the course from the 1940s until 1997 when the new – and current – grandstand was constructed.
2006: New All-Weather Course
The most impactful renovation work at Kempton took place even later, starting in 2005 and running through to 2006 when the new all-weather course was constructed. This ended Flat racing at Kempton and opened up a lot of new options and has been credited with turning a struggling racecourse into one of the finest in the country.