Kempton Park is gearing up for another fantastic Christmas treat for racing fans as it prepares to stage the two-day 32Red King George VI Winter Festival in just over a week’s time.

Course Specialist caught up with Steve Parlett, General Manager of Kempton Park Racecourse, ahead of this year’s spectacular, to find out more about this historic track.

 

What is the history of Kempton Park and how long has racing taken place there?

Kempton Park Racecourse is steeped in history, having been established in 1878 and is London’s closest racecourse, just 16 miles from the city of London. Kempton Park is one of the busiest racecourses in Europe, hosting quality horse racing all year round – Jump racing from October to May, and afternoon and evening Flat racing on the all-weather track throughout the year.

 

When was jumps racing first introduced at Kempton Park?

Kempton Park has held jump racing from its inception, in 1878.

 

A festive crowd at Kempton Park Image supplied by The Jockey Club

A festive crowd at Kempton Park
Image supplied by The Jockey Club

 

Why was Kempton Park chosen as the venue for the King George VI Chase?

The race, run over a distance of about 3 miles, was first run in February 1937 and named in honour of the new monarch. It was run twice before the outbreak of World War Two. The race then returned to the racing calendar on Boxing Day 1947 and had been programmed on this day ever since.

 

What is the crowd capacity for Kempton Park?

On King George VI Chase day we have a capacity of 22,000 people.

 

Cue Card (right) and the late Vautour in the 2015 King George VI Chase Image supplied by The Jockey Club

Cue Card (right) and the late Vautour in the 2015 King George VI Chase
Image supplied by The Jockey Club

 

What special measures are in place for the King George in terms of crowd control and ensuring everyone’s comfort?

We tend to sell out on Boxing Day, so cap the number of tickets at a level to ensure our customers’ comfort. Last year we reduced the number of tickets in the Premier enclosure, to further enhance the experience for our racegoers. We have around 250 stewards on site for the King George VI Chase day to ensure the safety of all our racegoers.

 

When does marketing take place for the King George?

We plan for the Winter Festival throughout the year, with our tickets for the 32Red Winter Festival going on sale on 5 September this year.

 

What effort is made to encourage international runners from Ireland and France?

Our Regional Head of Racing, Barney Clifford has an excellent relationship with trainers in Britain, Ireland and France and is in contact with many of them throughout the year to discuss campaigns for their horses.

This year the Jockey Club are continuing the £1m Chase Triple Crown bonus – for a horse winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the 32Red King George VI Chase at Kempton Park and the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. The chance to pick up the £1m bonus should be an extra incentive for many owners and trainers! Last year we saw Cue Card win the first two legs only to fall three fences from the finish when in contention in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Image supplied by The Jockey Club

Image supplied by The Jockey Club

 

How much of a challenge is it to market a meeting taking place over Christmas? How much of a challenge is the public transport situation?

The 32Red Winter Festival is a great day out for racing and sport fans, as well as families. It is an opportunity to watch jump racing of the very best quality and a great way to blow away the cobwebs after the Christmas break. Boxing Day boasts the prestigious 32Red King George VI Chase and the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novice’s Chase (in memory of Nigel Clark). The second day (27 December) offers great racing, most notably the Grade 2 32Red Desert Orchid Chase, as well a plethora of free kids entertainment, making it a great family day out.

There are no trains running on Boxing Day but we offer a free Park & Ride service for all racegoers from BP in Sunbury, with buses running to and from the racecourse throughout the day. For underground users there is a bus pick up point from Kew garden station. We also have a range of extra car parks available for customers – as with all major sporting events, we recommend booking tickets and parking in advance.

 

How many staff are employed at Kempton Park? What number does this swell to for the King George Meeting and does anyone get Christmas off?

We have 25 staff based in the racecourse office throughout the year, as well as our team of dedicated groundstaff and year-round support from the Jockey Club’s London region for marketing, sales and sponsorship. For each raceday this number swells with stewards, hospitality staff as well as raceday officials. To put on such a top sporting event the team are very dedicated and many work throughout the Christmas period – but most get Christmas Day off!

 

Has Kempton Park made any major investment in the infrastructure of the track and facilities recently? If so, what in and why?

Kempton Park opened its all-weather track in 2006, following significant investment in its creation. In the last four years The Jockey Club has invested nearly £1m on maintaining the quality of the all-weather racing surface. This is part of an ongoing commitment to provide and excellent racing surface, reflecting the Jockey Club’s mission to act for the long-term good of British racing.

Three years ago we were delighted to open the renovated Owners & Trainers area, which won an award from the Racecourse Association.

As part of The Jockey Club group we are lucky to have a rolling plan for investment and development. Governed by Royal Charter, every penny The Jockey Club makes is invested back into racing to support its long-term health. This allows us to continually invest in the facilities to improve the customer experience.

 

With the all-weather now well-established, has this helped to improve revenue streams and taken the pressure off the big jumps meetings?

There is pressure on our team at every fixture to make sure we put on the best possible racing and our customers have a good experience at our racecourse.

 

Tell me about the 32Red sponsorship, what this covers and for how long?

On 3 September we announced 32Red as the new sponsors of the King George VI Winter Festival, as part of a three-year partnership. 32Red also signed up to sponsor the Lanzarote Hurdle Day at Kempton Park, and extended its support for Tolworth Hurdle Day at sister-course Sandown Park. We warmly welcome 32Red as our new partner and we are delighted to expand our relationship to a new level on account of their status as a founding Authorised Betting Partner of British Racing. A founding Authorised Betting Partner of British Racing, 32Red is already the sponsor of 45 fixtures at Kempton Park this year alone and began its association with Sandown Park’s 32Red Tolworth Hurdle back in 2011.

 

How many days racing will Kempton Park stage in 2017?

70

 

What are the main operational challenges on race days?

Deep frost – we have raced following heavy snow and rain, but deep frost can even cause problems for all-weather surfaces. Fortunately, to reduce the chance of abandonments due to frost The Jockey Club have invested in 45 acres of frost covers for use on the racing surface.

Kauto Star memorably beats Long Run to win the 2011 King George VI Chase Image by Toby Connors

Kauto Star memorably beats Long Run to win the 2011 King George VI Chase
Image by Toby Connors

What is your own personal favourite memory of the King George VI Chase?

Kauto Star winning his fifth King George VI – his record in the race may never be matched. It was such an emotional day; everyone seemed to understand we were witnessing history being made.

Cue Card and Paddy Brennan return after winning the 2015 King George VI Chase Image supplied by The Jockey Club

Cue Card and Paddy Brennan return after winning the 2015 King George VI Chase
Image supplied by The Jockey Club

 

What discounts are on offer and where can people purchase tickets for the King George Festival?

Tickets are available with a 20% discount until the end of October. Tickets can be bought at the following website:http://kempton.thejockeyclub.co.uk/events-tickets/whats-on/winter-festival-26_12