Racing UK

Simon Bazalgette defends Jockey Club proposals to shut Kempton

Tuesday 10 January 2017

By Geoffrey Riddle

The Jockey Club’s Simon Bazalgette has underlined that the likely demolition of Kempton Park in a wide-ranging £500m redevelopment project is a positive for racing.

In his role as chief executive of the Jockey Club, which owns 15 racecourses and stage four of the five Classics, the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and Randox Health Grand National, Bazalgette put forward a bold vision for the future on Tuesday.

Kempton is set to be scrapped, with one of Britain’s premier tracks being submitted to Spelthorne Borough Council’s ‘Call To Sites’ project initiated in November to meet local housing needs. 

The Jockey Club hope to raise at least £100million from the move, and with an extra injection of £400m raised elsewhere they will invest heavily in to nearby Sandown Park, where they intend Kempton’s jump fixtures, including the King George VI Chase, to go.

Further investment will take shape in a new, standalone floodlit all-weather racecourse at Newmarket, based at the Links site near the railway station at the racing centre.

The course is projected to be a circuit, rather than a straight such as the new course at Newcastle and the turf courses at the Rowley Mile and the July Course are not to be touched. The intention is at least for Kempton’s all-weather fixtures to be transferred to the home of British racing and the new facility to be small and select, rather than a 20,000 capacity stadium. 

The project is slated to take a decade to complete and racing will not commence in Newmarket until the sport ceases to take place in Sunbury, which is pencilled in to be 2021.

For over 250 years the Jockey Club has had a leading part to play in racing. When asked whether the bulldozing of the home of the King George VI Chase would be a loss to the sport’s heritage Bazalgette defended the project. 

“We are about maintaining racing heritage and making sure that it is in the most healthy position it can be for the future,” he said. “That does not necessarily mean keeping everything the same as it has always been. That way is just general erosion and potential death of the sport. You have to keep the thing alive and keep investing in it and refreshing it.”

The changes are contingent on the sale of Kempton to the Borough of Spelthorne, which is looking to create 15,140 new dwellings up to 2033 due to housing shortages.

Without the money it is unlikely the full investment will go ahead.

If the Jockey Club do not generate £100m from the sale of Kempton, Bazalgette admitted that the Jockey Club would have to “cut their cloth accordingly.” 

What that means is impossible to gauge, but it is understood that the redevelopment of Sandown carries a greater priority than a second all-weather racecourse to the north east of the capital. 

Chelmsford Racecourse is around 50 miles from Newmarket and the independent racecourse announced plans on Tuesday for an all-night casino, which was given the go-ahead on Friday, and a new grandstand.

“There is an all-weather closer to Kempton to Newmarket than Lingfield,” Bazalgette said. “In terms of having tracks close together that is not a new thing. I don’t see that being anything major.  Experience tells you that horsemen go where the best racing is. 

“I think we will be consulting widely and this is a fairly long-winded process. This is not an easy decision and there will be some who will not be happy with it. We are convinced that this is in the best interests of racing if it happens and it would only happen if the long-term best interests of racing are enhanced as a result.”

Balzalgette also attempted to allay fears that the National Hunt racing programme in Sunbury would be lost. The King George has been run at Sandown previously, when One Man won early in 1996 and Kicking King a decade later.

“I would particularly like to stress that The Jockey Club will be looking to affirm our support for and investment in Jump racing on a national basis in the years ahead – from grassroots to the top-end – and through significant investment in the facilities and track at Sandown Park,” he said.

“Another of the key reasons for looking to take this opportunity to redevelop Kempton Park is because of our aspirations for Sandown Park.

"We want to realise the huge potential we see there by giving it a focus as London and Surrey’s Class One dual-code racecourse and with major investment in its facilities.

"As I’m sure you would agree Sandown is a fantastic viewing track with a lovely atmosphere, but now we need to transform its facilities and take it to the next level, including increasing its capacity and pushing for attendance growth.

“It is a sleeping giant and we have been carefully investing in its race programme and popularity for it to be ready for the next step, from the likes of the Coral-Eclipse meeting, to the Tingle Creek Christmas Festival to its Jumps Finale.”

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