Fontwell Park Racecourse Guide

Fontwell Park Races
Fontwell Park Races (Jon Bryant /

The small, West Sussex based village of Fontwell is undoubtedly best known for its racecourse. Sitting on the southern edge of the South Downs National Park, Fontwell Racecourse treats spectators to live racing in a peaceful and picturesque surrounding.

It’s a place that marked the first win ever for Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) as an owner when her horse, Monaveen, was crowned champion of the Chichester Handicap Chase in 1949. It was the first and only horse to be jointly owned by the Queen and the Queen Mother. Fontwell may not host too many meetings worthy of royalty but it certainly makes a for a great, relaxed day of racing.

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The Course

The layout at Fontwell Park is rather unusual and there are many that believe that the extra attention required to navigate the course suits some horses a lot more than others. The chase course, which includes relatively easy fences, is a figure of eight circuit, whilst the hurdles course is oval in shape. With tracks crossing over, you do sometimes see some idling horses take their chance to pull into the paddock area halfway down the run-in.

The obstacles at Fontwell Park may not pose the biggest challenge but the nature of the course most certainly does. The corners are sharp and the finish is stiff, often posing a real challenge to those looking to make up ground on the leader. It’s no stranger to testing conditions either and on such occasions jockeys will tend to stray from the inside rail, especially during hurdles races.

It’s always good to check course form coming into a race at Fontwell as it often counts for a lot. Many course specialists have been seen over the years, including the likes of Certain Justice who registered 14 of his 25 career victories here. More recently, St Athans Lad won 11 times at Fontwell in just a 14 month period between 1992 and 1993.

Major Races

Fontwell’s big occasion each year is the National Spirit Hurdle that runs in late February / early March. At Grade 2, it’s a very high quality affair that has been able to attract some top quality horses on occasions, most notably Baracouda, who won the race in 2001. The race is named after 1940s Champion Hurdle winner National Spirit who also racked up five wins at Fontwell during a highly successful hurdles career.

Arguably the major chase event at Fontwell Park is the Southern National, one of many long-distance Nationals to take place across the UK each year. It’s the feature race of the meet in November and regularly sees a well-sized field test their stamina across three miles, three furlongs and 45 yards. There is a generous prize pool of around £25,000, making it one of Fontwell’s most lucrative races.


Tecom Grandstand
Tecom Grandstand (N Chadwick /

Fontwell Park has been voted the Best Small Racecourse in the South East 19 years in a row and it’s not hard to see why it’s won the accolade so consistently.

Useful Info

Dress Code

For general admission, racegoers will not be required to adhere to any special dress code, although smart casual wear is encouraged. In the hospitality areas, certain standards are kept and this means ripped jeans, trainers and sports shirts are not permitted.

Ticket Prices

If purchased in advance, admission to the Paddock Enclosure will usually set you back between £14-19 depending on the fixture and tickets on the gate will cost an extra £5. Premier Enclosure tickets tend to vary between £19 and £24, and again will cost an extra £5 if purchased on the day rather than in advance.

Advanced tickets, purchased either online or via phone carry a £1.50 booking fee on the total order. Students and over 60s can get a £3 off tickets bought on the gate. For those looking for a filling meal with the racing, a spot in the Premier Lounge Restaurant with a three course set menu starts at £79 for adults and £20 for children under 12.


£279 is the price of a year’s membership at Fontwell Park and with that you get access to all other ARC (Arena Racing Company) owned courses plus over 30 reciprocal fixtures.

Members can bring a friend along for two fixtures in the year, as well and will also be given four complimentary tickets for any ARC course (exclusions apply). You’ll also have the option to go on the annual walk of the course and visit a nearby training yard.

Getting There

Although located in a small village, you won’t have much difficulty getting to Fontwell Park, even if you are without car access. Nearby Barnham train station has links from the likes of Portsmouth, Brighton and London Victoria.

From there, a free shuttle bus will collect racegoers on all meets, starting two hours before the first race and leaving immediately after the last.


A parking place inside the centre of the course can be purchased for £5 or you can choose to opt for the free parking just outside.


Dead Cert Film
The 1974 film, Dead Cert, was filmed at Fontwell Park (

By 1924, Alfred Day had saved up sufficient money that he could buy enough land for a racecourse in Fontwell. With the support of the local gentry, Day collected his licence from the Jockey Club and on 21st May, the first meeting took place. The inaugural race was won by the favourite Gem, who was ridden by champion jockey Fred Rees. A big crowd was in attendance who were able to enjoy the racing and also the gardens that Day had been maintaining for years prior.

In its opening year, Fontwell Park hosted four days of racing but this gradually increased with additional meets which tended to take place in the spring or autumn. The track was becoming ever popular and in 1949 it was fit for a royal visit. It proved to be a very enjoyable visit for Queen Elizabeth II, whose winning horse, Monaveen, can be seen in the form of a commemorative statue in the main enclosure.

On Film

Fontwell Park was used during the racing-based film, released in 1974, Dead Cert starring Judi Dench. The drama, which was based on a book by Dick Francis, needed a shot of a horse falling over the fences. Despite picking a known unreliable jumper for the take, the chosen horse decided to jump fluently whenever the camera was rolling.


The course has changed hands a few times since the end of the war. In 1970, it was rumoured Goodwood were keen to takeover but eventually it was bought by London solicitor and then, Plumpton racecourse owner, Isidore Kerman. His son Andy became the chairman in 1998 but only for four years as then Northern Racing took control (a company that would later merge to form ARC).

With the latest takeover came lots of investment into the facilities at Fontwell. A stable yard, big enough to hold 90 horses was added and the parade ring, winners’ enclosure and saddling boxes were all refurbished in 2007. This is in addition to all the extra facilities such as the hotel and restaurant which help Fontwell to host weddings, concerts and conferences.

Further Reading

To read more about the past of the racecourse, you may be interested in a book called The History of Fontwell Park written by historian and racing fan, Jim Beavis. Then and again, you may just want to visit the track and have some fun!