Jake's Thoughts on Kempton's ClosureJake Johns - 12:01, 11th January 2017
The news broke yesterday morning that the historic racetrack Kempton shall be closed down to pave the way (literally) for Spelthorne Borough Council’s housing development plans as part of their ‘Call To Sites’ scheme – to unsurprising uproar from the majority of racing fans. The idea is to raise half a billion pounds to funnel back into racing from the Jockey Club, and whilst I understand this is a business and money must be found from somewhere, is it right to put a price on such an important grade one course?
The track is most famous for staging the national hunt mid-season premier event, The King George VI Chase, won by greats such as Arkle (1966) in his last ever race, Desert Orchid four times and the legend Kauto Star a record five times between 2006 and 2011. Key jumps races will be spread out around courses across the UK but the King George itself will be moved to another London track, Sandown. It seems the logical thing to do on the face of it, probably the biggest race outside of Cheltenham needed to stay around London.
But one of the appeals of the King George was specifically Kempton itself, in that it is an almost polar opposite track to Cheltenham. Whilst Sandown is configured the same way as Kempton (they’re both right handed) they differ in almost every other way. Where at Kempton the sharp, flat track puts an emphasis on speed, Sandown and Cheltenham are much more galloping and testing tracks.
It’ll be a real shame when the race is eventually moved in 2020 but even more interesting to me is the proposed all-weather track development at Newmarket. I’m not the biggest all-weather fan but I’ve always considered Kempton as one of the most visited and credible all-weather venues – mainly due to its proximity to the capital providing easy accessibility to millions of Londoners. Furthermore, their reasoning for the move to Newmarket is worrying to me and regular punters alike.
“A new purpose-built all-weather course on The Links at Newmarket to replace that at Kempton Park would be ideal for the thousands of horses trained at the home of racing and beyond, as well as shortening the working day for racing’s people there.”
I get that having a tiny all-weather track on their doorstep will be massively convenient to Newmarket trainers, the majority of which don’t need the help, but what about the broader racing public? With such a huge effort currently being undertaken at ITV to broadcast our sport to a wider audience, taking away a beloved and historically significant national hunt track and sticking an all-weather track in the 99.9% racing town of Newmarket seems like a step backwards to me – but what do I know eh!? ?