Wednesday 16th of January 2019
Racing

Farewell to Kempton Park racecourse?

Kempton Park, one of the leading racecourses in the UK, is set to be sold for housing development after the Jockey Club announced plans to invest £500 million into the sport, writes Kitty Trice.

Kempton Park

The controversial decision, which the Jockey Club said, “is for the long-term good of British racing”, was met with an outpour of dismay and sadness on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The racecourse, which has seen the likes of Arkle, Desert Orchid, and Kauto Star romp to victory in its showpiece, the King George VI Chase, will likely make way for housing but will continue to host racing until 2021.  To many, the King George is synonymous with Christmas festivities and celebration.

Should the proposal go ahead, the King George VI would move to Sandown Racecourse, located six miles away, and an all-weather track would be built in Newmarket. A somewhat startlingly decision, given that Kempton is less than an hour train ride away from London Waterloo.

Senior Steward of the Jockey Club, Roger Weatherby, has continued to defend the sale of the track as a positive for the future of racing.

“We must show leadership with the assets we have and, where merited, take tough decisions to help our sport to keep moving forward,” Weatherby said.

“The decision to submit our estate at Kempton Park for consideration in the Local Plan is unique and has not been taken lightly.”

 

Kempton Park

For punters and professionals alike, the potential loss of Kempton is a painful blow and particularly for the likes of Clive Smith. The owner of the five-time King George winner Kauto Star, whose ashes are now part of the course’s heritage alongside Desert Orchid, spoke of his shock at the decision.

Leading figures in the racing world, including Mick Fitzgerald and Nicky Henderson and Donald McCain, were also among those who expressed disappointment and sadness.

Henderson, who trained the 2010 and 2012 King George winner Long Run, remarked that losing Kempton would be a huge loss to National Hunt racing.

 

“I’m afraid when it comes down to it, Kempton is a track National Hunt racing cannot afford to lose,” he told Press Association Sport.

“We fought this battle once before and we won. They were talking about having the all-weather track and then flat racing on the turf and doing away with the National Hunt.

“It will be a very sad day if we lose it and I fear it will be a nail in the National Hunt coffin.”

Henderson, who has saddled 58 winners at Kempton in the last five years, also revealed concerns about the moving of the King George to Sandown, stating that the racecourse would not have the ground to cope with additional meetings.

“I had two or three horses that are due to run at Kempton this weekend that couldn’t have run at Sandown last weekend, purely because of the ground.

“If you have a good-ground horse you go to Kempton, if you have a horse that wants softer ground and a stiff track you go to Sandown.”

“Sandown can’t take that amount of racing. They [the Jockey Club] will tell you it can, but it can’t, we all know that.”

Sandown, which holds both jump and flat race meets such as the Tingle Creek and Coral-Eclipse meetings, will receive significant investment to its facilities alongside additional races to its programme.

 

Kempton Park

Indeed, many will wonder whether the Jockey Club could find other means of investing in the sport, instead of losing one of the most historic and beloved racecourses. The Jockey Club, who previously insisted that British racing’s heritage is “priceless”, has priced a jewel of the racing calendar.   

With the memories of Kauto Star winning his fifth King George and Sprinter Sacre’s battle with Sire De Grugy in the Desert Orchid Chase still fresh in the mind, saying farewell to Kempton will be a sorrowful experience.

Three of Kempton’s best:

Desert Orchid (King George VI winner 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990):

Affectionately known as “Dessie” by his many fans, the hugely popular grey, trained by David Elsworth, was the first horse to win three King George’s in a row. His white statue stands by the parade ring of the course he seemed to relish and he is now part of racing folklore.

Kauto Star (King George VI winner 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011)

The Paul Nicholls-trained superstar truly made racing history when adding a fifth King George win to his previous four titles, beating Desert Orchid’s record in the process. His 2009 win at Kempton was proclaimed by many to be one of the best performances since the mighty Arkle and his name is now carried by the Feltham Novices’ Chase.

Arkle (King George VI winner 1965)

Known simply as “Himself”, the greatest steeplechaser of them all added a King George win to his breath-taking CV in 1965. His final race came at Kempton a year later when he finished a gallant second and was found to have fractured a pedal bone during the race.

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