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Archive for the ‘Kempton’ Category

The Fallen Idol

The furore about the Jockey Club’s plan to make Kempton the next defunct racecourse by selling it for housing arises from the shock value of the announcement, compounded by the fact that it was made heedless of the attitude of Spelthorne, the local authority. How could the Club be unaware of the Council’s strongly-held view that there should be no development?

The Jockey Club was a self-perpetuating oligarchy that ruled racing for well over 200 years, with a series of Lords and Sirs not wanting to rock the boat. For much of the 20th century they often appeared behind the times, while innovations such as starting stalls came in years after they did in other racing countries.  However, this changed in the 1990s when a group of progressive, forward-looking senior stewards willingly gave up many of their functions to a new body, the British Horseracing Board, which later became the BHA (British Horseracing Authority).

This was an inspired move in terms of the Club’s reputation, for all the eyecatching day-to-day controversies like peculiar verdicts in stewards’ enquiries and hoo-hah about the whip rules were no longer their province.  Furthermore, the Club had left themselves with valuable physical assets in the form of racecourses and the vast Newmarket gallops.  Gradually the old jokes died out and instead the BHA became the target for the criticism they used to suffer.   The Club’s main focus became the management of over a dozen tracks by their Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) arm.

Building on the Kempton estate must have been in JCR’s mind ever since the all-weather track was laid down in 2006. Originally the National Hunt course was going to be dug up, but industry pressure persuaded them to retain it and discontinue flat racing on turf.  The outcome was that a large part of the estate, including the Jubilee course that extends most of the way to Hampton alongside the A308, lies unused.  I stand to be corrected, but I believe there are no footpaths traversing this area and therefore no public benefit from it other than it is not concreted over!  So there is, in theory, plenty of space that could be used to build houses and keep the existing track.  Perhaps final judgement about the development should be suspended until we know more about the numbers to see how persuasive the purely financial case is – or understand better why JCR need to start selling the family silver.

That said, JCR and the Jockey Club have taken a terrible fall from grace by going public about this oblivious of Spelthorne’s inevitable reaction. In the last ten years or so they have done really well, developing the image of a competent outfit, emphasising the Club’s long history and desire to work in the best interests of racing.  Most recently the rebuilding of the Cheltenham enclosures has been regarded as a great success.  But expressing the desire to close Kempton, a busy and successful racecourse, flies in the face of this and damages their newly-won reputation in a way that may take years to repair.

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