Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

On Track for a Long War

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

On Track for a Long War

Article excerpt

Byline: LYDIA HISLOP

KEMPTON must be hugging itself after John Prescott blocked the London City Racecourse project. Not only did the Deputy Prime Minister remove its major competitor to building a flagship dirt track in south-west London, he also endorsed the need for exactly such a project to get off the ground.

In his report overruling the planning inspector's approval of Wiggins's [pound]100 million proposal for East London's Fairlop Plain, Prescott accepted "the unchallenged views of economic and racing expert witnesses that the racing industry needs new racing products". He added that "the preferred location for a flagship all-weather track is close to the capital".

But owners United Racecourses, part of Jockey Club subsidiary Racecourse Holdings Trust, has a war to fight if this most commercially alluring vision for Kempton is to become a reality at the expense of National Hunt racing.

Kempton has a problem: it only comes alive once a year. Boxing Day's King George VI Chase is its unique selling point.

Beyond that, it stages good but unremarkable National Hunt cards and popular if unexciting Flat fixtures lacking star quality.

Trainers and jockeys love it, viewing it as a fair course, well husbanded.

But many racegoers, even after its grandstand facelift five years ago, find it soulless.

A forward-thinking company should consider the long-term strategy of a racecourse that is, given its prime location close to London and every major transport link, under achieving.

Flat dirt racing is the growth market in Britain.

The success of Lingfield's new [pound]3m Polytrack has proved top trainers will send top horses dirt racing in the UK.

Yet in a climate that increasingly classifies National Hunt racing as an endangered species, framed by the threat to traditional pursuits such as hunting and the loss of three jump tracks in the last six years, Kempton's cold hard introspection has panicked the troops.

Officials insist no decision has been reached by its working party, but if Kempton does ditch National Hunt racing, how would it work?

This is the scenario I'd wager on.

Kempton's two-day King George meeting would switch and reduce to just Boxing Day at sister course Sandown, sitting snuggly between the latter's Tingle Creek and Mildmay Cazalet fixtures.

Sandown's final annual Flat meeting in October is already moving to sister track, Epsom, in 2003 - a decision unconnected with Kempton's musings.

That would allow Sandown's ground to recover sufficiently to accommodate Kempton's Charisma Chase card later that month.

Kempton's Racing Post Chase would maintain its February slot at Sandown, but would be conflated with a two-day card from the previous week at the Esher track. …

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