Alastair Down: this is a seven-league stride towards better future


Kempton racecourse: Alastair Down is in favour of the Jockey Club’s plans

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Alastair Down on why the Jockey Club’s shock Kempton decision is proof of much-needed progressive planning

IT IS going to be a long dusk as the light dies but without any warning on Tuesday the sun began to set on Kempton Park.

As familiar a part of our landscape as the back garden, Kempton will echo no more to the hooves of the horses by 2021.

Jockey Club Racecourses has put the For Sale signs up on more than 350 acres of staggeringly valuable south-west London building land just a couple of miles down the road from Hurst Park, the last major course to close back in 1962.

Racing people are conservative by disposition – we like to conserve and draw strength from the status quo. Therefore our every instinct is to protect that which is known and loved and fight for Kempton’s survival.

But please leave the sackcloth and ashes on the shelf and un-circle those wagons. This is not a shredding of the past but a seven-league stride towards the sport’s better future.

The Jockey Club will make many hundreds of millions and in return it will put half a billion back into racing and that will include the ageing concrete khazi that is Sandown being revivified and a new purpose-built all-weather track in Newmarket.

The King George will go to the reborn Sandown and the rest of its jump races distributed around Britain – including the neglected north.

It is a plan unprecedented and inspirational in its boldness and a leap forward of genuine vision. Frankly I never thought I would see such a day of radical rethink.

Of course Kempton will be missed but our least lovely Grade 1 track is like some knackered armchair in the corner of your front room, the springs are gone, it looks a mess and nobody uses it except at Christmas when the house is full for one time in the year.

Tom Scudamore riding Thistlecrack

Kempton: course was packed to see Thistlecrack win the King George VI

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

Designed for the 20,000 of Boxing Day, its midweek all-weather meetings attract claustrophobics from across Britain. In the days when Kempton bought in 500 doughnuts to give away to racegoers all the staff put on three stone from eating the 200 left behind.

It died as a Flat course when the faux sand and floodlights came in. Goodbye to the Classic trials and household-name handicaps such as the Jubilee and the Rosebery.

There will be endless planning issues but this die is already cast. If there is one cross-party political point of agreement in Britain it is the overwhelming need to build more houses and in the south-east in particular.

In one of Britain’s single most spectacular urban developments post-war, 3,500 homes will spring up at Kempton, the admittedly sad memories enshrined in Arkle Avenue and Kauto Star Close.

The new all-weather will be at the Links in Newmarket. Driving in passing the July course on your left, it will be situated back from the road between the golf club turning on your right and the town cemetery.

Sandown is still a spectacular theatre but its grandstand now smacks of a 1960s Eastern bloc airport. No plan is too brave for its improvement and its potential for non-racing income is limitless.

A huge plank of the Jockey Club plan is to increase prize-money, which is one of those commitments that tends to belong beside that beguiling sign “free beer tomorrow”.

Will the Jockey Club deliver? Well it has to because that is what its Royal Charter compels it to do – its raison d’etre is to act for the long-term interests of the sport.

Much is promised both overtly and implicitly, and in this controversial grand plan our leaders must deliver on the devilry in the detail. And the Racing Post will be at the forefront of holding the Jockey Club’s feet to the fire of fulfillment.

But here at last, unheralded but welcome, is the shock of the new – proof positive that racing as a sport is about progressive strategic planning for the decades ahead.

American Trilogy (right) - Kempton Park 11.02.2011

Kempton: track’s future is under threat after bombshell Jockey Club news

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

We are going to lose a limping old friend long ready for retirement.

Of course there will be pangs of regret, but in return jump racing will be boosted across the land, Sandown will get its long-overdue Lazarus treatment and the home of the racehorse will gain a purpose-built all-weather that will not impinge on anybody’s beloved Rowley Mile or July course.

With some honourable exceptions, all my working life British racing has been about make do and mend. But this is different. It is about the best sort of modernity driven by the shape of how we need to be in the future. Yesterday we threw off the yoke of being held ransom by the past.

Oh brave new world – how great to see it dawn.

Horse Racing News | Racing Post

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