Thursday 18 January 2018

Henderson fury at Kempton closure

Nicky Henderson: angry at sell-off plans
Nicky Henderson: angry at sell-off plans

Johnny Ward

Racing has been rocked by news that Kempton racecourse is to be sold for housing, Nicky Henderson among those saddened and angry.

Britain's Jockey Club plans to build a new floodlit all-weather course if Kempton receives approval for redevelopment, with a new site at The Links in Newmarket the planned venue - news which will disgust traditionalists.

And on the same day of the Kempton news, another all-weather venue - Chelmsford - achieved planning permission for a new casino. Britain has six all-weather tracks, Newcastle opening last year, though that course continues to race jumpers.

Kempton opened in 1878 and that the iconic King George VI Chase will have to take place elsewhere - almost certainly Sandown - will sadden racing fans. The Grade One, run on December 26, has been won by the likes of Kauto Star, Desert Orchid, Wayward Lad, Captain Christy and the great Arkle.

The most recent King George was won in stunning fashion by Thistlecrack and is set to be one of the last renewals. Sandown will get substantial funding as part of the shake-up.

If development is permitted, the Jockey Club said it would be looking to ensure it generates at least £100m. Racing would continue at Kempton, which is in Surrey and around 16 miles from London, until at least 2021.

Jockey Club senior steward Roger Weatherby said it acted "for the long-term good of British racing.

"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 £0.5bn 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... 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; having carefully considered what we can achieve in the long run, we're unanimously of the view that British racing is better served by (this)."

He added: "A new purpose-built all-weather course in Newmarket ... 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 people there."

Trainer Henderson twice won the King George with Long Run, his haul of six wins in the Christmas Hurdle is a record. "The King George isn't the same race at Sandown and running the Christmas Hurdle there is a waste of space. Kempton is a track jumps can't afford to lose," he said.

"We fought this battle once before and won. They were talking about having the all-weather track, 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."

Tom Taaffe trained Kicking King to win the King George twice and his father, Pat, rode Arkle to victory in it in 1965. He said: "Even though Kicking King won at Sandown when Kempton was being redeveloped, they are totally different. It would be very sad to see Kempton closed."

Irish Independent

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