London is not only England’s capital, it is also a sprawling metropolis that is, in many ways, more like several different cities stitched together than one big one. You can head to certain parts of the capital and the size of the area that you’re in will mean that it’s bigger than the city centre of somewhere like Liverpool or Birmingham. Little wonder, then, that there are more than a few sporting venues that you can head to for some enjoyment should you wish to. There is also the fact that some courses, such as Ascot and Epsom Downs, aren’t technically in London but are close enough for them to be considered.
Indeed, there is an argument that London actually has no racecourses, if you want to be particularly fussy about the definition. What we’re looking at is racecourse that someone living in London would be able to attend without needing to worry about getting a hotel. Whilst somewhere like Birmingham is easily accessible to the capital, you’re still talking about a couple of hours on the train and an expensive taxi. The same isn’t true of the courses we’re considering to be ‘in London’, which are Windsor, Sandown Park, Lingfield Park, Kempton Park, Epsom Downs, Ascot and Chelmsford City.
List of Racecourses in & Around London
Now that we’ve established what we’re concerned with in terms of ‘London’, it is worth taking a closer look at the racecourses in question. It is all well and good referring to something as a ‘racecourse’, but that doesn’t offer any sort of information regarding what sort of racing you can come to expect from it. We will also explain where in the country the course actually is, as well as its distance from the Tower of London as the crow flies, to get a better sense of its relationship to the capital:
|Racecourse||Type of Racing||Location||Distance from Tower of London|
|Ascot Racecourse||Jump & Flat||Ascot, Berkshire||26.82 Miles|
|Chelmsford City Racecourse||Flat (All-Weather)||Great Leighs, Essex||34.18 Miles|
|Epsom Downs Racecourse||Flat||Epsom, Surrey||31.03 Miles|
|Kempton Park Racecourse||Flat & Jump||Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey||15.55 Miles|
|Lingfield Park Racecourse||Flat (All-Weather)||Lingfield, Surrey||23.58 Miles|
|Sandown Park Racecourse||Flat & Jump||Esher, Surrey||15.45 Miles|
|Windsor Racecourse||Flat||Windsor, Berkshire||24.04 Miles|
There are few racecourses around the world that are as well-renowned as Ascot. Founded in 1711 by Queen Anne, the course has had a connection to the Royal Family ever since. Never is that more evident than during the week of Royal Ascot, which is arguably the highlight of the week. The Royal meeting, held in June, is considered to be the centrepiece of the British summer social calendar. Royal Ascot features several high-profile races, including the Queen Anne Stakes and the Gold Cup. It is the most prestigious race meeting in Britain, spanning five days and seeing each day kick-off with the Royal Procession.
The racecourse covers 179 acres of land leased from the Crown Estate, with racing taking place here on 26 days of the year. During that time there are 18 flat meetings between April and October and 8 jump meetings between October and March. Given the fact that around 600,000 people a year head through the doors to witness the racing, it is fair to say that Ascot Racecourse has earned its place in the heart of the horse racing world. Over its 300-plus year history, Ascot Racecourse has become a national institution and a symbol of British horse racing excellence. It has seen the participation of legendary horses and jockeys.
Chelmsford City Racecourse
When Chelmsford City Racecourse opened in 2008, it was the first entirely new horse racing course to do so since Taunton opened its doors in 1927. It hasn’t always been sunshine and lollipops at Chelmsford City, with the club going into administration in the January following its opening. It remained closed for the following six years, staying open ever since. The course was originally known as Great Leighs Racecourse thanks to its location and was created by John Holmes and his son Jonathan. Their hope was to be able to capture a large untapped market on the edge of London.
Despite the fact that the rest of Great Britain boasts a course per one million people, there was no course to cover Essex or Hertfordshire, with the nearest course being Newmarket 50 miles away. Laid out left-handed over 8.5 furlongs and boasting a two furlong home straight, it has a Polytrack surface that makes it an all-weather course. This means that it can only be used for flat racing, given the fact that jump racing is too dangerous on such courses. The most notable races run here are the Cardinal Stakes, which is a Conditions event, the Chelmer Fillies’ Stakes and the Queen Charlotte Fillies’ Stakes, both of which are Listed races.
Epsom Downs Racecourse
Though Epsom Downs is the second-farthest racecourse from the Tower of London as the crow flies, it is very much considered a course for the London crowd. First opened in 1661, it can welcome as many as 130,000 people when you include those that watch on from the Epsom Downs themselves. There are three Group 1 events that are closely associated with the course, which are the Epsom Derby, the Epsom Oaks and the Coronation Cup. The first two races are part of the Classics, which is a series of five events that also includes the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas and the St. Leger Stakes.
The first known reference to a race taking place at Epsom Downs came in 1661, which is why that is considered to be the year racing began, but it is likely that the sport took place much earlier. There are countless reasons Epsom Downs is well-known, although perhaps the most influential was thanks to Emily Davison throwing herself in front of King George V’s horse here in 1913. That was seen as being a pivotal moment in the fight for women’s suffrage. There have been numerous changes and developments over the years, including the decision to rename the Queen’s Stand as the Queen Elizabeth II Stand after the late queen’s passing in 2022.
Kempton Park Racecourse
Another of the courses on the list that is owned by the Jockey Club, Kempton Park Racecourse first saw official racing taking place on it in 1878. There are adjoining inner and outer courses, meaning that it is able to host both flat racing and National Hunt events. It is the second-closest course to the capital, with its location close to the border of Greater London. A new station was created specifically to be able to welcome racegoers who were looking to catch the train from Waterloo or Clapham Junction. The King George VI Chase on Boxing Day is probably the course’s best-known event.
In June 1870, S. H. Hyde and his wife were enjoying a carriage ride together when he discovered that Kempton Manor and Park were for sale. Six years later the course opened and for a long time the Easter meeting was the highlight of the year. The course didn’t change much for a long time, but in 2005 it was closed in order to install a new all-weather track, which was designed to allow racing to take place both at night and if the conditions were poor. Despite boasting some excellent races, the future of course was plunged into doubt when the Jockey Club announced in 2017 that it was due to close by 2021.
Lingfield Park Racecourse
Usually referred to simply as ‘Lingfield’, Lingfield Park Racecourse is owned by the ARC Racing and Leisure Group. It is one of the five all-weather tracks in the United Kingdom, with the others being Southwell, Wolverhampton, Newcastle, Chelmsford City and the aforementioned Kempton Park. Located in an estate covering 450 acres, the venue was opened in 1890 by the then-Prince of Wales, who would go on to become King Edward VII. He gave his permission for the Prince of Wales’ feathers to be included in the official logo for the course, providing another racecourse with ties to the Royal Family.
There is also a turf course at Lingfield Park, which hosts jump racing during the winter. Interestingly, it was originally only used for National Hunt events, but that changed in 1894 when the Jockey Club granted flat racing permission to take place there. The course was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War, which was the only time since flat racing began there that some form of racing hasn’t taken place. It has had numerous owners over the years, including a period when it was the property of the bookmaking firm Ladbrokes. It has been owned by ARC, formerly Arena Leisure, since 1994.
Sandown Park Racecourse
The closest racecourse to the Tower of London as the crown flies, Sandown Park first opened its doors in 1875. It was one of the first such venues in the United Kingdom to charge everyone for attending races, with the minimum charge being half a crown. The first meeting took place across three days, with one of the events being the Grand National Hunt Chase, which takes place as part of the Cheltenham Festival nowadays. The meeting culminated on the Saturday, when one of the races was the Grand International Steeple Chase, boasting a prize pot that was larger than the Grand National at Aintree, unusual for the time.
In other first for Sandown, it became the first place to have a member’s enclosure when that opened in 1875. In the years since, there have been a wealth of excellent races that have taken place there. The Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle, Celebration Chase and Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase are Grade 1 events, for example, whilst the Eclipse Stakes is a Group 1 race. Arguably the best-known event is the Tingle Creek Chase, which is run during the meeting in December. If you’re hoping to see some racing here then you can usually find some taking place in the afternoons and evenings, as well as over the weekend.
Given its location in Windsor, it is perhaps not all that surprising that Windsor Racecourse is another of those near London that is favoured by the Royal Family. It is also located on the banks of the River Thames, meaning that it is spiritually closer to the capital than most of the others. It is shaped liked a figure of eight, although the full course is never actually used for racing. It is one of just two courses in the United Kingdom that boast such a configuration, with the other being Fontwell Park. Although the local area has links to horse racing as far back as the days of Henry VIII, the first meeting didn’t take place until 1866.
There was a time when National Hunt meetings took place regularly at Windsor, but this was abandoned in 1998. At that point, the course switched almost entirely to a flat racing one, but there haver been occasional jump racing events held at the courses since. One such example came in the mid-2000s when it was used to cover some of the National Hunt events normally hosted by Ascot because that was undergoing a refurbishment. The Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes is arguably the best-known event run at the course, with the most notable accomplishments being when Richard Hughes won seven of the eight races as jockey in 2012.