Kempton Park Racecourse
Kempton Park is located at Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey and is the home of the King George VI Chase, one of the most prestigious prizes in National Hunt racing. The racecourse opened a new all-weather floodlit polytrack in 2006 which now stages regular flat meetings.
The racecourse is less than a mile from Junction 1 of the M3 on the A308 between Sunbury-on-Thames and Hampton Court. Kempton is 16 miles from London and has a railway station just 200 yards from the North entrance. Trains run every half an hour from London Waterloo except on Boxing Day when a special bus service is available from Turnham Green Underground Station.
Kempton’s chase course is right handed and one of the flattest jumping courses in the country. The flat track is the only right-handed all-weather track in the country and has two distinct loops. The inner circuit is for races over five, nine and ten furlongs with a short run-in of under two furlongs. The outer circuit provides a run in of almost three furlongs. Low numbers have a clear advantage on the inner circuit and this is most pronounced over five furlongs.
Kempton Racing History
Kempton Racecourse was opened in 1878 and staged top quality racing under both codes. The Grandstand suffered major damage in a fire in 1932 and no racing took part at Kempton during the two World Wars. Kempton Park was used as a depot for military vehicles and a temporary camp for prisoners of war. Kempton’s wartime fixtures were temporarily transferred to Gatwick, Hurst Park and Sandown Park.
The racecourse was re-instated in 1947 with the current Grandstand completed in 1997 following redevelopment. The course closed in May 2005 for the flat turf track to be replaced with a new polytrack surface. Floodlighting was also installed and the new track opened on 25th March 2006.
Controversial plans were unveiled in 2017 to sell the site for £100million and build 3,000 homes with Kempton’s major races transferred to Sandown and elsewhere. This announcement was widely condemned by the racing community. In February 2018, the local council said the housing development was now “unlikely” to go ahead with Kempton performing strongly as part of the green belt.
King George VI Chase
The Boxing Day meeting featuring the Grade 1 King George VI Chase is the highlight of the racing year at Kempton. The race is second only to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of prestige in National Hunt racing.
There are three Grade 1 races at Kempton and all three take place on Boxing Day. The King George is supported by the Christmas Hurdle and Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. The second day of the Christmas meeting features the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase and Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase. The Lanzarote Hurdle towards the end of January and the BetBright Handicap in February are other significant jumps fixtures at the track.
The most important flat races held at Kempton are the Group 3 September Stakes and Sirenia Stakes. The track also stages the Easter Stakes, Magnolia Stakes and Rosebery Handicap. These were all switched to the polytrack which replaced the flat turf track in 2006.
The King George VI Chase is a Grade 1 chase over three miles with over £200,000 in prize money on offer. As well as being one of the top prizes in jump racing, the King George is regarded as a key trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. It is also the second leg of the Betfair Million, a bonus prize for any horse that wins the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the King George and the Gold Cup.
The two-mile Christmas Hurdle is one of the top trials for the Champion Hurdle and a host of top hurdlers have won both prizes. The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (formerly known as the Feltham Novices’ Chase) is a major lead-up race for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, a Grade 1 race for staying novices.
The February jumps meeting features the valuable Grade 3 BetBright Chase and the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle. The latter has become a significant trial for the Triumph Hurdle in recent seasons. The Lanzarote Hurdle is named after the 1974 Champion hurdle winner, twice a winner of the Christmas Hurdle. It used to be over two miles but was increased to two miles and five furlongs in 2007 and always attracts a strong field of stayers.
The September Stakes was established in 1979 and was promoted to Group 3 status in 1982. The Sirenia Stakes is a two-year-old race over six furlongs and was upgraded from Listed to Group 3 status in 2003.
Famous Races and Racehorses at Kempton Park
The King George VI Chase has been won by many of the greatest steeplechasers in history. Cottage Rake (1948), Mandarin (1959), Mill House (1963), Arkle (1965), Pendil (1972 and 1973) and Best Mate (2002) were all successful in this race. The popular Wayward Lad won the race for Michael Dickinson in 1982, 1983 and 1985.
Desert Orchid then made the race his own with four victories in five years (1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990). Even his phenomenal record was surpassed when Kauto Star gained his fifth King George victory in 2011. He had won the race for four successive seasons between 2006 and 2009 for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh. Kauto Star also became the first horse to regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup with his victories in 2007 and 2009.
Seven horses have won the Christmas Hurdle on two occasions including Champion hurdlers Kribensis (1988 and 1999), Binocular (2010 and 2011) and Faugheen (2014 and 2011). Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer in the race with seven wins, most recently with Buveur D’Air in 2017. Gold Cup winners Long Run (2009) and Coneygree (2014) are on the roll of honour for the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. In 2015 Lizzie Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 Chase in Britain when winning the Kauto Star aboard Tea For Two.
The September Stakes has been won by some top class horses. Mutamam (2000 and 2001) and Prince Bishop (2013 and 2014) both won the race twice, the latter going on to win the Dubai World Cup in 2015. Sir Michael Stoute has won the September Stakes five times, most recently with Arab Spring in 2016. Grundy won the Sirenia Stakes at Kempton in 1974 before going on to win the Epsom Derby the following season.
Top Jockeys and Trainers at Kempton Park
Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are dominant at the Kempton jumps meetings. Henderson has recorded an impressive 36% strike-rate over fences here in the past three seasons. Colin Tizzard also does well over the larger obstacles while Alan King has enjoyed plenty of success with his hurdlers at Kempton.
Jockey Nico de Boinville has won on nearly half of his rides in chases since 2015 while nobody rides this track better than Barry Geraghty. He has rewarded his followers with level stakes profits over fences and hurdles.
On the flat, John Gosden has maintained a healthy strike-rate of 26% resulting in a level stakes profit. Charlie Appleby also does well here, particularly with his juveniles. Jim Crowley, Luke Morris and Adam Kirby dominate numerically but James Doyle is the only leading jockey to provide a level stakes profit.