Sandown Park Racecourse, in Esher, Surrey, is renowned as a difficult test of jumping ability, even for seasoned steeplechasers, and owes its reputation, at least in part, to a line of three fences, collectively known as the ‘Railway Fences’. As the name suggests, the Railway Fences are situated towards the end of the back straight, also known as the ‘Railway Straight’, which runs alongside the South Western Main Line between Surbiton and Hersham.
The back straight at Sandown Park consists of seven fences in total, including an open ditch and the water jump, but it is the proximity of the remaining three that makes the Railway Fences a key stage of any steeplechase run at the course. Jockeys must maintain balance, rhythm and impulsion as they approach each fence, so riding an experienced, agile steeplechaser, capable of shortening its stride quickly, when required, is a huge advantage when riding over the Railway Fences. By contrast, inexperienced horses or those with moderate jumping ability, who cannot physically ‘put themselves’ right at a fence, are much more likely to lose their rhythm – and, consequently, any winning chance – over the Railway Fences.