Tom Lunn looks at the issues surrounding the controversial closure of the popular course.
The Kempton Park closure is something that has stirred a mixture of emotions and reactions within horse racing, yet it’s something that affects more than the racing community.
The plans to close the Park means races such as the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day will have to be moved, with plans to switch it to Sandown Park Racecourse in Esher or Ascot Racecourse not too far away in Berkshire.
There are questions as to why it should be held at Sandown over Ascot. The two racecourses are equipped differently to handle capacity crowds. Sandown race days often create heavy traffic before and after races with even their lowest attendances in the surrounding areas of Esher, so the impact on the community could be too high for Sandown to handle. The King George attracts a much larger footfall which suits Kempton due to the transport links and convenience of location.
Kempton’s illustrious history has been established ever since the first race was held there on 18th July 1878. The course closure has had its impact, evident from the reaction of the racing community with owners, trainers, jockeys and fans voicing their emotions.
So sad Kempton Park is being closed – many of my first boyhood racing memories were at Kempton Park
Paul Nicholls, national hunt trainer was quoted saying: “I dread the doors at Kempton closing for the final time.”
Jockey Tom Scudamore puts a little perspective on the matter:
It’s sad that an organisation created (originally) to save racecourses from developers….. Is now selling them.
Not all jockeys disagree with the closure. Ruby Walsh admitted he’d be sad if Kempton closed, but he supports the decision of The Jockey Club to shut down saying it “just makes sense.”
The sense of it though, is that attendances at Kempton have been increasing steadily within the last four years. The overall attendance for 2016 was 24,917 higher than that of the overall attendance in 2013. With the King George consistently gathering attendances of over 20,000 – an attendance that Sandown will struggle to uphold – it’s clear that there’s still a yearning for the all-weather course to continue to attract the crowds that Kempton are so used to.
Some fans though (and rightly so) were focused on the racing itself:
Me to 18 & 20yo sons: “Kempton is closing” Sons: “Oh no! , Boxing Day!?” me:”Sandown instead”. Sons: “Great! M3 not A3, no problem”
The sadness in the racing community highlights the significance of losing a place that is still part of the beating heart of horse racing. It’s apparent from the overwhelming response to the news nearly a month ago, that no other course will be able to make up for or replace Kempton that has seen the best of national hunt horse racing for over 130 years.
Sandown will have to cope with that pressure as well as looking to accommodate larger capacity crowds. Yet the Jockey Club-owned racecourses are set to benefit from this endeavour so it’s possible the improvements needed could well be in the works. The proposed closure is set to make an estimated £500m with the potential to put that money straight back into the racing industry.