Top jumps owner Munir questions Club over closure
Leading jumps owner Simon Munir has questioned the Jockey Club's handling of the proposed closure of Kempton, saying its public relations had "not exactly been a textbook case study".
Munir said the decision to put the course forward as a potential site for a 3,000-home development had left many unanswered questions and that the Jockey Club might have received a more sympathetic reaction had leading jumps owners and trainers been consulted before the announcement.
At the same time the Racehorse Owners Association said it wanted the Jockey Club to provide more detail of the potential benefits it has been claimed can be derived from Kempton's closure.
Munir, with Isaac Souede one of jump racing's major owners, whose string includes 2015 Triumph Hurdle winner Peace And Co and the likes of Bristol De Mai and L'Ami Serge, said he has been attending Kempton since childhood.
But he said emotions needed to be put aside to try to understand a decision which the Jockey Club claims will enable it to pay off £115 million in debt and invest £500m, including building an all-weather course at Newmarket and carrying out a major upgrade of Sandown, where it hopes to relocate the King George VI Chase.
Munir said: "The Jockey Club has amassed a substantial debt position reported to be in the order of £115m; there are two questions one needs to ask, firstly how has this happened and secondly could it happen again?
"Naturally, if it could happen again then another racecourse would need to be sold, which is a very slippery slope. In other words, has the Jockey Club debt arisen as a result of exceptional circumstances or could those circumstances be repeated?
“Leading on from this, the Jockey Club have stated they intend to spend £500m over the next ten years; with that sort of cash flow, why not refinance and keep Kempton open? The collateral the Jockey Club has at its disposal to guarantee debt is substantial and we’re currently in a very low interest-rate environment."
He added: “Building a new track is a risk in itself and could lead to more losses. The Jockey Club also needs to be balanced in its investment in both National Hunt racing and Flat racing."
Munir described the Jockey Club as "a wonderful organisation steeped in history”, adding: “They have done wonders with Cheltenham and should be congratulated for it. I have friends who are members of the Jockey Club who give up their valuable time voluntarily to put something back into our great sport."
But he added: "The way the proposed closure of Kempton has been handled has not exactly been a textbook case study in public relations. Perhaps it would have been better to have spoken to stakeholders and got their thoughts and explain the thought process, along with the challenges facing Kempton or horseracing in general.
"We would have then had answers to the questions we’re all asking now, and as a result perhaps been more sympathetic to the Jockey Club's plan of action.
"If Kempton has to close, at the very least we need to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, otherwise the days are numbered for this great sport we all love so much."
“The planned investment of £500m over ten years would be a significant boost to our sport and has the potential to enhance facilities and prize-money, both of which are required to retain owners. We need to see evidence that there would be a significantly positive effect on British racing through the improvement of all Jockey Club courses, particularly at grassroots level.
"The decision to close Kempton has not been met with universal approval and the ROA board looks forward to understanding further the implications this has on its membership.”
The closure would be very keenly felt in Epsom, whose trainers send a quarter of their Flat runners to Kempton and have more than one in five of their winners there.
The town’s trainers fear losing one of their main marketing advantages with owners. "Kempton has been a selling point for Epsom-based trainers. We have a lot of runners and winners at Kempton," said Simon Dow.
Pat Phelan added: "We would advertise Epsom as being convenient for two all-weather tracks, Kempton and Lingfield.
“We're going to have a meeting to see if anything can be done to ease the impact on our owners as we assume we’ll now have to go to Newmarket to run our horses in the years to come."