Racing UK

Nicky Henderson says closing Kempton would be “mega loss” to jump racing

Tuesday 10 January 2017

By Andy Stephens

Nicky Henderson says the proposed closure of Kempton would be “a mega loss” to jump racing and does not regard Sandown as being an ideal replacement home for the King George VI Chase.

The three-time champion trainer told on Tuesday afternoon that he was as shocked as anyone that the Jockey Club intended to close the Sunbury venue as part of a plan that also includes transforming Sandown, boosting prize money and building a new floodlit all-weather track in Newmarket.

Henderson has enjoyed success at Kempton since 1971, when he rode his first winner there over hurdles, and does not believe the Jockey Club would consider scrapping the 139-year-old track unless it was for the greater good of the sport.

However, he did point out that his late father, Johnny, had been one of the founding members of Racecourse Holdings Trust - now called Jockey Club Racecourses - and that one of its primary objectives was to save racecourses, rather than destroy them.

“I don’t know all the facts and figures but losing Kempton would very, very sad for all of us,” Henderson said. “The loss of any racecourse is sad but this would be a mega loss.

“It is still one of the prime National Hunt courses in England. It’s a great track and fair to every horse - you can run anything there.

“It’s a fantastic winter track and we love it. If there is any good ground to be had, it is there because it is on a gravel pit. It provides better ground than anywhere in the country during the winter.

“I don’t know why but it seems to suit my horses better than most other places. It has served us well.”

The 1995 King George VI Chase, won by One Man, was switched to Sandown because of snow and frost at the Kempton.

It was also run there when Kicking King in 2005 when Kempton was being redeveloped, but Henderson is fearful about ground conditions at the Esher venue for jump racing’s mid-season staying showpiece, which has produced legendary multiple winners such as Kauto Star and Desert Orchid.

He said: “The beauty of Kempton has always been the going. When Sandown is very soft, Kempton can easily be good.

“I don’t see Sandown as being a great replacement. It hasn’t got the ground to take those [extra] meetings; it just doesn’t drain as well.”

Jump racing at Kempton came under threat more than a decade ago when the all-weather surface was proposed. However, after strong opposition from trainers it remained.

“We were threatened with it before but managed to stave it off,” said Henderson, who saddled Long Run to win the King George in 2010 and 2012. “It was a big fight and thank goodness we managed to save it then.

“This time, as I understand it, there is huge amount of money involved and if this is for the benefit of racing then who am I to say ‘you can’t do this to my beloved Kempton’.

“We have to see if this money is for the betterment of racing in general - you can’t get all sentimental about it. Someone has got to balance this all up and, on day one, I cannot be the judge of that.”

Barney Clifford, Director of Racing and Clerk of the Course at Kempton Park, provided Henderson with some details of what was involved in the morning but the trainer said he had not had a chance to read or understand exactly what is involved.

“I wish my Dad was still here because he would understand this completely,” Henderson said. “He was the instigator of Racecourse Holdings Trust, which was set up to save racecourses. Cheltenham was the first they bought [when property developers were eyeing up the venue].

“This is now Jockey Club Racecourses selling off a racecourse. We must accept there must be some figures in here that have been well thought out.”

Henderson will be 71 in 2021, by which time the King George may have a new home. Will he still be in the training game?

“I sincerely hope so, don’t try and write me off that quick,” he said, smiling. “I’m with some owners who have got a nice four-year-old that’s just walked into the yard. He will be nine then, in his prime.

“There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge. I would be desperately sad to see Kempton go - maybe we could just race around the houses?”


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