Nicholls: I dread the doors closing for the final time
Champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls spoke of his dread yesterday that Kempton, the course where he has saddled the winner of the King George VI Chase nine times, including five times with the iconic Kauto Star, could be sold for housing and torn down.
The trainer said he was shocked and confused by the announcement that rocked racing on Tuesday that the Jockey Club, along with house builder Redrow, would be submitting plans to the local council to demolish Kempton and allow 3,000 homes to be build on the site.
He said: “I have had so many magical days at Kempton, some of the best of my career. I've enjoyed no end of good fortune there, a great jumping track where you know you will find better ground through the season more than at any other course.
“It's a speed track that suits bold-jumping, free-running chasers. Brilliant horses like Desert Orchid, Wayward Lad and Kauto Star who set the place alight every Christmas.
“So obviously I dread the thought of the doors at Kempton closing for the final time and hope it doesn't happen.”
An investment of £500 million or more over the next ten years has been promised by the Jockey Club as part of the plans but Nicholls, who saddled Modus to win the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday, questioned where the money for the investment would be coming from.
Nicholls, writing in his Betfair blog, said: “We've been told that £100 million will be raised from the sale of Kempton yet that is balanced by the Jockey Club's current debt of £115m. Yet in the next breath their group chief executive Simon Bazalgette is promising an investment of £500m in our sport over the next decade.
“That type of mega funding for jump racing from the bottom upwards sounds terrific to me but I surely cannot be the only one wondering where all this money is coming from. So at the moment I feel strongly that to have a balanced view I need to know a lot more detail about these startling proposals before making up my mind.”
Should plans for Kempton proceed Nicholls added he would be in favour of moving the King George VI Chase, a race he has won nine times, to Ascot rather than Sandown, as has initially been suggested.
"Given the choice I'd move it to Ascot, a much more suitable venue from a racing point of view as it is an outstanding jumps track with excellent facilities and the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a large crowd," he said.
"Just imagine more than 30,000 jumping enthusiasts at Ascot on Boxing Day for the most important jumps race in mid-winter.
"That would be superb, much better than the race being held at Sandown which would be packed out with half that amount of people. Plus the fact that the ground is almost always bottomless there at that time of year."