Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Article excerpt

When the generals have lost heart and crept away from the battlefield it is hard for the ground troops to keep up their spirits. Although the Cheltenham Festival buzz is already in the air, BetBright Chase Day at Kempton Park last Saturday definitely had something deflated about it. Everybody was still doing their jobs but the atmosphere wasn't one of celebration or expectation. The cover of the racecard for which punters had to fork out £3 carried, as it long has done, the words 'Kempton Park -- a Jockey Club racecourse', but that doesn't have the same ring about it now we know that the Jockey Club intends, as soon as it can secure a property developer's signature on the cheque, to turn Kempton into a huge housing estate.

Although the BetBright-sponsored event was full of interesting races contested by the cream of Britain's racing yards, the racecard compilers had taken their motto from the dying news editor who insisted his tombstone should bear only the words. 'John Smith, 1930 to 2000. All the facts you need to know.' The basic information on runners and riders was there. So was a list of course officials, health-and-safety regulations and 11 pages of betting advertisements. But there was not a single jockey or trainer profile, not a single feature designed to widen racegoers' knowledge or remind them of the racecourse's great days. Is the Jockey Club determined to make us forget all about Kempton as soon as possible?

The authorities had not even bothered to include in the racecard the basic details of the runners and riders at other racecourses that day, a day when the popular Eider Chase was being run at Newcastle and the Winter Derby at Lingfield. Others do it, so why can't Kempton? Those who attend race meetings do not follow the sport at one racetrack exclusively and with Kempton's TV screens beaming out racing at other tracks, and on-course Tote and betting shops taking bets on races everywhere, every racecard should list the runners, riders, timings and jockeys' colours of important races elsewhere. Racing's funding, with which the Jockey Club is supposed to be concerned, depends on the levy on bookmakers' profits, and racing's authorities should be doing everything they can to keep up turnover.

My basic rule of thumb at Kempton meetings in the run-up to Cheltenham is to look at the horses sent by Nicky Henderson, who times Cheltenham preparations so perfectly, and back most of them, unless the champion trainer Paul Nicholls appears to have a better prospect. …

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