Tom Scudamore on why closing Kempton is wrong on so many levels
Tom Scudamore blog on Kempton racecourse closing
Coral horse racing ambassador Tom Scudamore spoke exclusively to us about Kempton racecourse closing in the coming years.
At first when I saw the news I was shocked, now I just feel angry. I just can’t understand it. If a track needs to close surely it doesn’t make sense to close one of the biggest and most historic racecourses?
One of the main reasons the Racecourse Holdings Trust, which was the former name of Jockey Club Racecourses, was set up in the first place was to save racecourses from closing down for development.
It is desperate to be saying they have to close a track like Kempton. I can only assume there must be an enormous financial black hole to fill. They’ve got themselves into a major fix and they need £100m to sort it out.
It’s wrong on so many levels; most importantly the history and heritage of the racecourse. It’s never been a course I’ve had loads of winners, though fortunately I have had Grade One winners there, but I grew up watching Desert Orchid winning King Georges there, I rode against Kauto Star when he won King Georges, and a few weeks ago I got to win the race myself on Thistlecrack. It’s a place where some of the greatest jumping racehorses have their finest hours.
What’s also struck me is that what defined the true greats, from Cottage Rake, Arkle, Captain Christy through to the likes of Best Mate and Kauto Star, from the good top staying chasers, the likes of Denman, is that they could win a King George, on a quick, fast, flat, right handed track like Kempton, and then win over a quarter mile further on a stiff, undulating, galloping, left handed course like Cheltenham in a Gold Cup.
That was the importance of Kempton to identifying the truly great jump horses. They’ve moved the King George to Sandown before and it worked OK but it’s a different course to Kempton and becomes a different race, and a different test.
“Kempton works. It is a money making racecourse”
Racecourse Holdings Trust was set up in the 1960s specifically to safeguard racecourses, I think it started with Epsom, Kempton, Sandown and Cheltenham. During that period there were loads of threats to tracks. Cheltenham was in trouble at one stage, Aintree nearly closes, Sandown had bad times, they were all under pressure to be sold to developers.
RHT started with a few big courses but they acquired more along the way, and that was to save them and protect them for the good of racing. And now the Jockey Club Racecourses has announced a decision to close Kempton, a decision that seems completely at odds with what they were originally set up to do.
Kempton works. It is a money making racecourse. It is not a loss making racecourse. It just seems so wrong. If this announcement had been made by ARC or another independent racecourse everyone would be going bananas, they’d be up in arms, and rightly so. So we need to make our voices heard and try and oppose this awful decision.
If they can show us why this is the only way and it has to be done for financial reasons, just as the French did when they were forced to close Evry, well at least then you could understand it. But as far as I can see there has been no consultation, nobody has been shown the financial figures behind the plan, and we’re just being told it has to be done to preserve the heritage of racing. Well that’s clearly total nonsense.
We were up in arms about the redevelopment of Haydock. We weren’t happy about it but the other option was to have no jumps racing there. The important days for Haydock were their Group One flat races and Friday night meetings which attracted good crowds. They made the argument for it and it had to be accepted. At least there is still jumps racing at the track and they continue to put on good prize money which attracts the best horses.
“Top trainers are happy to run their horses there”
In a year’s time you can see Douvan taking on Thistlecrack around Kempton. It is the only place it would happen. The top trainers like Willie Mullins are happy to run their horses there. I don’t think Vautour would have run in a King George around Sandown on soft ground.
The Jockey Club haven’t come out with any justifiable reasons as to why this is happening. How does racing benefit from this? The overriding factor over every decision should be what is best for racing.
A good idea would be to have a panel of leading retired jockeys and trainers who don’t have a conflict of interest making these calls. People who are highly respected and switched on rather than sat at home twiddling their thumbs.
It was sad to see this morning that Don Cossack has retired from the sport. It just shows you that nothing should be taken for granted as we all have to get there. Setbacks happen in racing so you to take your chances when you get them rather than waiting for another occasion.