Shock plan to close Kempton and build all-weather course in Newmarket
Kempton racecourse is set to be sold for housing as part of a Jockey Club plan that also includes the construction of a new all-weather track in Newmarket.
As part of a £500 million spending plan for British racing over the next ten years, the Jockey Club will build the new floodlit all-weather course should Kempton receive approval for redevelopment, with a new site at The Links in Newmarket the planned venue.
Sandown would receive major investment as part of the plans, with the 32Red King George VI Chase set to move to the course permanently.
The shock plans for Kempton have been formulated since Spelthorne Borough Council's recent 'Call To Sites' for land to provide further housing. If development was permitted the Jockey Club said it would be looking to ensure it generates at least £100m. Racing would continue there until at least 2021.
The Jockey Club would also require the new all-weather track to be operational before any changes at Kempton.
Jockey Club senior steward Roger Weatherby said it had been a tough decision to make.
"The Jockey Club is governed by royal charter to act for the long-term good of British racing," he said.
"One of the ways we want to live up to that is through a series of projects that offer benefits all around the country and collectively add up to us contributing more than half a billion pounds to the sport over the next decade from its grassroots to top level.
"We must show leadership with the assets we have and, where merited, take tough decisions to help our sport to keep moving forward.
"The decision to submit our estate at Kempton Park for consideration in the Local Plan is unique and has not been taken lightly.
"Our board of stewards are horsemen and, having carefully considered what we can achieve in the long run from doing so, are unanimously of the view that British racing is better served by us doing so.
"Horsemen and customers alike will enjoy the benefit of numerous projects nationwide that result from the record investment proposals we unveil today, which include investments at each of our racecourses and training grounds throughout the country."
Sandown to inherit King George
The Jockey Club said there would be a series of enhancement projects across all its racecourses and training centres nationwide as part of the plan and new records for its contributions to prize-money.
The group would look to transfer Kempton Park's other jumps fixtures to other jumps courses it operates both small and large and promised it had no intention of converting any of its existing turf surfaces to all-weather.
Weatherby added: "If changes take place at Kempton Park in the future we will act to secure and invest in the jumps programme nationally.
"We will work with the BHA to seek to run some races, including the King George VI Chase, at Sandown Park.
"We plan to transform Sandown Park's facilities, utilise the latest advances in track technology and help bring a focus on it as London's premier dual-code racecourse right on the doorstep of millions of people, unlocking what we see as its great potential.
"Furthermore we will look to boost jump racing from its grassroots to the top-end in consultation with horsemen and the wider industry.
"This would include Kempton Park's programme being transferred to our jumps courses around the country and through investments at each track over the next decade – in all four of our regions, in the north, south-west, east as well as London.
"A new purpose-built all-weather course on The Links in 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 am also particularly pleased that The Jockey Club will be even better placed in the coming years to provide further support to important causes, such as racing's welfare and education programmes. As ever our intention is for our sport to benefit to the greatest extent possible."
After Tuesday's news broke, we asked racegoers for their responses. Here's what they said . . .
I think Kempton is a cold, horrible, miserable place but I’m amazed at the announcement. I’m a jumping man but races like the King George will be relocated to Sandown and, for me, I won’t lose too much sleep over it. They shut Folkestone for the same reason [housing] and it’s a sign of the times. Look at the greyhound tracks.
Steve Perrott, Croydon (at Lingfield)
It's diabolical. I know people laugh at tradition but that tradition is slowly being taken away. I am 68 and I have seen this happen in greyhound racing, it's all gone to pot.
Gary Shaw, from Chester (at Wolverhampton)
It's called moving with the times, and from what I've read Kempton's all-weather course has never been popular with racegoers. It's a pity they didn't decide to do it ten years ago as it would have saved the cost of putting an all-weather course down. Mind you, if you have a horse who wants to go right-handed where will you be able to run it?
Fiona Donovan, Lincoln (at Southwell)
I am not quite sure how I feel because I understand that we need housing. The Flat turf course has already gone and the all-weather is not everyone's cup of tea. But the King George at Kempton is a tradition and it will be missed. I come to most meetings at Wolverhampton but never on Boxing Day as I stay at home and watch the King George. It won't be the same at Sandown, that is a different course – Kempton is a much quicker track.
Alan Timmins, Wolverhampton (at Wolverhampton)
It’s a prime building site, I’d have thought, and I’m not that disappointed as Kempton is not a place that will draw you in and I’ve always found it a soulless place. Twilight racing is nothing more than betting shop fodder and it’s the pictures that are keeping it going. I was more disappointed when Folkestone shut, that was a great shame. It’s a good jumps track at Kempton and that’s a shame. I think there’s enough all-weather racing as there is and not sure Newmarket will happen.
Tim Seegar, Lingfield (at Lingfield)
It is always disappointing when a course closes, I have seen several in my lifetime. I'm not too worried about the all-weather course there as nobody seems to go, but it is one less jumping track and that is a great shame. Financial considerations, I suppose, but I'm not in favour of it.
Jack Bramham, Nottingham (at Southwell)