Rust: King George switch would have to be in racing's interest

Nick Rust (BHA) at the press conference

Nick Rust: BHA chief executive spoke about plans to sell Kempton

  PICTURE: Dan Abraham  

 By Lewis Porteous 1:57PM 22 JAN 2017 

THE JOCKEY CLUB’S controversial plan to switch Kempton’s prestigious King George VI Chase to Sandown if plans to sell off the race’s current home to developers goes ahead would only be sanctioned by the sport’s governing body if it was in “the best interest of the sport”, BHA chief executive Nick Rust underlined on Sunday.

While the BHA can not step in to halt the sale of Kempton, Rust made clear that the the Jockey Club would need approval from the BHA board to switch any Pattern or Listed races to other tracks within its group, such as Sandown.

Rust was speaking in wake of the Jockey Club’s announcement last week that it has put Kempton forward as the potential site of a 3,000-home development which would result in the track closing and the King George relocating to Sandown.

“The Jockey Club needs approval from the BHA and the BHA is bound by its articles to act in the best interest of the sport overall,” Rust told At The Races.

He added: “We have to have a set process with the sport and we engage with racecourses and horsemen about this, and it’s our remit to deal with it. We want to be neutral with regards to what the Jockey Club wishes to do and have to make our decisions in the best interest of the sport.

“I’m not saying we’re standing by but we have to take the decision on a fair basis in line with our memorandum of understanding and in line with the rules.

“Until we get the economics of the sport right, we can’t always be as picky and choosy as we’d like to be. I’d be delighted if Kempton stays open and we will do our best to hold the Jockey Club to account.”

New fixtures need approval

The project, which could potentially net at least £100 million, would assist the Jockey Club’s pledge to plough £500m into racing, including building a new floodlit all-weather track in Newmarket and upgrading Sandown.

However, while the existing Kempton all-weather fixtures could be transferred to a new track in Newmarket, any additional fixtures would again need BHA approval.

Rust added: “Kempton is their property and if they decide they don’t wish to race there anymore that’s entirely up to them but the BHA’s role is in a few areas.

“First of all, if they wish to open a new racecourse at Newmarket as is suggested, we have to review and approve that. For competition reasons we’d have to have a very good reason not to approve in such circumstances.

“We also have to approve any new fixtures a racecourse would want. With the all-weather fixtures from Kempton there is precedent that if they open a new track at Newmarket they could carry those with them but if they wanted more fixtures to be granted that’s entirely in the remit of the BHA.”

Thorny issue

Quizzed on the thorny issue of whether or not JCR physically owns its current fixtures, Rust said: “It’s not been challenged in court but the result of the 2003-04 OFT set a situation up where there was implied value in fixtures and we know fixtures have been bought and sold over the last ten years by racecourses and those fixtures have a portable value. So there is precedent.

“The sport could go to court over fixtures at some point but I don’t think that’s in the interest of the sport overall because there could be all sorts of unintended consequences for the sport.”

Investment in prize-money

While the Jockey Club has so far failed to provide a detailed breakdown of the figures involved, the deal disclosed it has £115m of managed debt but has claimed it is not a factor in the proposals for Kempton.

Asked for his take on the finances, Rust added: “We want to make sure that we hold the Jockey Club to account that if their plan does go ahead that they do carry out those investments. They’ve talked about an overall figure of £500 million over ten years compared to £394 million that they spent over the past ten years. Half of the £500 million on what I’ve been briefed on is in prize-money.

“A lot has been talked about their overdraft and their £115 million of debt, I understand that by the end of 2016 that’s down to £100 million and 15 years ago it was £200 million. I think they might have done a better job of getting that across about their investments and how they have managed their debts, and I’m sure they will now.

“There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge here but the Jockey Club have got a lot of experience in British racing and have invested a hell of a lot and have made this plan in good faith. I’m sure they didn’t take a decision to potentially close Kempton lightly and no one wants to see Kempton closing but we’ve got a sport where the economics have not been adding up.”

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