Fontwell Park Racecourse is located in the village of Fontwell, which lies between the towns of Chichester and Arundel in the county of West Sussex in the south of England. The history of the racecourse dates back to 1924, when Alfred Day, who had been training racehorses in the area since 1887, had acquired enough land to obtain a licence from the Jockey Club to build a racecourse at Fontwell. Indeed, the limited space available was sufficient to build a conventional, oval hurdles course, but could only accommodate a figure of eight steeplechase course. Fontwell Park has the distinction of being the only figure of eight racecourse in the country. Nowadays, the racecourse hosts 24 National Hunt fixtures between April and December.
Admission prices at Fontwell Park are £20 per person in the Premier Grandstand Enclosure and £15 per person in the Paddock Enclosure, although concessions are available for senior citizens and students and admission is free for accompanied children in both enclosures.
The Premier Grandstand, which was only completed as recently as 2010, was built with corporate events, such as conferences and meetings, in mind. The range of flexible spaces inside the grandstand include two conference halls, with a total of over 10,000 square metres of floor space and 12 breakout rooms, each capable of accommodating up to 20 people. All spaces are wheelchair accessible, two lifts operate to all floors and free Wi-Fi is available throughout the building. Fontwell Park Racecourse also offers acres of outdoor space suitable for exhibitions, product launches and public shows, together with unlimited free parking.
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What's unique about the course at Fontwell?
The hurdle track at Fontwell Park is a left-handed, fairly sharp oval, about a mile around with four flights of hurdles per circuit. The chase track, on the other hand, is an undulating figure of eight with six fences per circuit.
The idiosyncrasies of Fontwell are unsuitable for big, long-striding horses and the unusual demands of its layout have created numerous course specialists. Certain Justice, for example, won 14 races around Fontwell between 1959 and 1966 and St. Athans Lad won 11 races between 1992 and 1993.
Notable Races and Events
The most valuable race of the year at Fontwell is the National Spirit Hurdle, run over 2 miles 4 furlongs in February each year and worth £28,609 to the winner. The race is named after the dual Champion Hurdle winner National Spirit, who won five times around Fontwell, including the Rank Challenge Cup in three consecutive years between 1948 and 1950. Nowadays, the race is considered a trial for the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The winner of the National Spirit Hurdle in 2012, Third Intention, has failed to add to his winning tally, but has run some excellent races in defeat, notably when going down by just a neck to Captain Conan in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown in February 2013.
In 1949, Princess Elizabeth, who later became Queen Elizabeth II, recorded her first success as an owner at Fontwell, when Monaveen, trained by Peter Cazalet and ridden by Tony Grantham, won the Chichester Handicap Chase. Princess Elizabeth actually owned the horse in partnership with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother and she and Princess Margaret visited Fontwell to watch the horse win comfortably at odds of 30/100.
The filming of the Dick Francis novel Dead Cert took place at Fontwell during the summer of 1973. The Fontwell Park scenes called for horses, wearing the right colours, to fall at particular fences, but even jockeys of the calibre of Paul Kelleway and Jeff King found it difficult to make horses fall to order. One notoriously dodgy jumper, Paddynoggin, jumped impeccably whenever he was on camera.
Fontwell Park was also the course where, in 1984, seven-time champion jockey John Francome rode the 1,036th winner of his career, breaking the record previously held by Stan Mellor for career winners for a National Hunt jockey. Francome's record has subsequently been beaten by Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and, of course, Tony McCoy.
Top Owners, Jockeys and Trainers
Gary Moore, who trains at West Beeding, just over 30 miles east of Fontwell, is the leading trainer at the course during the last five seasons with 45 winners from 274 runners. Percentage-wise, Ditcheat trainer Paul Nicholls also does well at Fontwell and lies second in the trainers' table with 35 winners from 100 runners in the same period.
Gary Moore's son, Jamie, lies only third in the jockeys' table with 32 winners from 257 rides and both Richard Johnson with 33 winners from 147 rides and Tony McCoy with 38 winners from 147 rides have better strike rates. John Patrick “J.P.” McManus is the leading owner at Fontwell during the last five seasons with 13 winners from 89 runners.
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