When the summer sun sets over west London there’s few better views than seeing he horses run at Sandown Park. Situated just a few miles south of Kempton Park, Sandown has long been considered on of the premier venue so not just for racing but also for concerts due to good access and some majestic views. Opened in 1875, it hosts a variety of flat and national hunt racing meetings during the season including the Grade 1 Eclipse Stakes, Henry VIII Novice Chase and the Celebration Chase. Interestingly, it was the first course of its time to be purpose built and charge for admission. It was also a favourite of the Queen Mother’s who knew a thing or two about racing.
The adjacent conference centre hosts regular events from wedding fares to conferences and provides an income stream unlike other courses which has enabled Sandown to add additional hospitality areas such as the Eclipse Pavillion. The single main stand has two enclosures – a general and a premier, both offering excellent views and facilities. The Equus restaurant on the second floor of the main stand has the best views of the action and the London skyline.
During the summer the venue hosts a number of evening race meetings with big-name concerts afterwards such as Madness, Bryan Adams and in 2017, Clean Bandit.
Our Last Visit – August 2016
The first thing to remember when coming evening racing at Sandown is to double the driving time that any SatNav or Google Maps will tell you. Normally everything moves well until you leave the M25 and head into the black zone around Cobham Village, a land where the 4 x 4 is king and parking regulations mean nothing to anyone. Consequently you will be stuck in a traffic jam caused by Tamara double parking outside Waitrose whilst she pops in to get some Yalu Bean paste. Navigate through that stretch of road without resorting to road rage and you earn your stripes.
The course sits on the Scilly Isles roundabout system where the A307 and A309 become intertwined. One false move here and you could end up lost in the Esther by-pass forever. But choose wisely and you can park free of charge in the ample space and head on into the cavernous main stand, grabbing a craft beer or two on the way in from the local breweries that set up shop.
Our visit was two-fold. First it was to be our maiden voyage on the good ship Sandown, technically only an hour from home and enjoy an evening of good quality flat racing. There’s was also the added bonus of an evening with Bryan Adams, something CMF never turns her nose up at. The youngest Fuller’s, professing to not know any of his songs, came along for the ride and free food.
Due to Tamara’s mercy dash we’d missed the first race where evens favourite Palisade had romped home, but found a spot on the heaving grandstand steps in time for the 6:10 where the 100/1 Whatalove, backed by Isabella, had our collective hearts in our mouths before fading. First Quest at 9/2 gave us our first return from the evening in the third, whilst in the 7:55pm we backed the first four including 11/1 shot Sangaroo – evening paid for. With the golden sunset framing the silhouette of the London skyline perfectly, the final race provided one last winner with Boycie grabbing 2nd at 5/1. Profit for the evening? Absolutely. Sandown is a great venue for evening racing although you did get the feeling they probably tried to cram too many people in for the racing and concert to really make it an enjoyable event.
The stage had been set up to the right of the grandstand with a viewing platform in front – fine for the concert although from the grandstand steps the best views were from the big screen opposite. The food trucks and bars at trackside proved useful and filtered people away from the grandstand. Adams rocked the crowd with the classics that even the yougest Fuller’s admitted to knowing and even liking at times.
The beauty of the internet is that setlists for tours can easily be found and so knowing what the encore would be and realising we would only be missing the new stuff we headed out early, avoiding Nigel’s poor parking outside Majestic to buy a bottle of vintage Beaujolais Nuevo and within an hour we were back at Chez Fuller.
What’s the track like? Flat and National Hunt racing with an uphill stretch towards the finishing post. Elevated Grandstand gives excellent views of the racing.
Admission: Advanced Grandstand Enclosure tickets start from £15 for some meetings, although it does depend on category or group race. Entry to the Premier Enclosure which has finishing line views costs around £6 more whilst the winners package which includes £10 food and drink vouchers, a free £2 bet and a racecard cost £2 more.
Food & Drink: You can’t walk far in Sandown Park without finding someone selling food or drink. The formal restaurants such as The Brasserie and the magnificent Equus need an advance booking but are worth it for special occasions and start from £99 per head. More informal options include the homemade sausage rolls that you buy by the inch and hand-carved salt beef sandwiches. Breweries such as The Hogs Back set up stands on race days offering some excellent beers. Picnics are also allowed on the lawns at the front of the grandstand.
Address: Sandown Park Racecourse, Portsmouth Road, Esther, Surrey, KT10 9AJ
Directions: From London, take the A3 and follow the brown venue signs to Sandown Park. Exit A3 on to the A307 and continue to follow the brown venue signs. Alternatively, from the M25, exit at Junction 10 and follow the A3 towards London then exit onto the A307 and follow the brown venue signs. Try to avoid the route through Cobham and Esther High Street, it will just leave you frustrated.
Esher rail station is just a 10 minute flat walk from the main entrance and can be reached by crossing the centre of the course on racedays (please note that the course will be shut for approximately 10 minutes before and after each race as there will be horses on the course) or by the complimentary raceday minibus service.
Hotels near-by: Sandown Park Lodge is the on-site hotel at Sandown Park, just a few steps away from the venue’s main entrance. The 21 room hotel benefits from extensive parking facilities and a stunning racecourse setting, with many rooms overlooking the pre-parade ring and stables. Rooms start from £90 and the hotel offers racegoing packages. Bookings can be made online here. The stunning Esther Place is only a few minutes away as well and offers race-goer packages as well – call 01372 463042 for details.