The closure of Kempton – looking back and forward

A steady start to 2017 continued with a deeply impressive feature winner. Well done to those who took advantage of Will’s tips which resulted in a 10/1 winner at Warwick and an 8/1 winner at Punchestown. Join us for Will’s Wisdom next week plus our Plays, Lays and Daily Tips.

Finian’s Oscar, for whom the sky is the limit. He would have to be hugely respected wherever he goes, although on better ground his future for now might lie with the intermediate trip of the Neptune. Death Duty, favourite for the Albert Bartlett, might well do better over three miles following his win in the Navan Novice Hurdle – where Augusta Kate came with meaning looking challenge before falling at the last. The slowly run race didn’t suit a real roller and he has live prospects too for those who are already on for the Albert Bartlett; His current price now is short enough.

The biggest racing news of the week was the closure of Kempton Park racecourse, announced as part of a package of plans that will take place from 2021 at the earliest, we are told by the Jockey Club to much shock. The debate since has been as intense as one would expect for a course with such a rich history, especially in the jumping game.

The course will mean a great deal to any racing fan – and especially those of the National Hunt fixation – but the closure, as with so many other things, is financially based. Being around an area which has seen property value skyrocket (something that many other sports are going to have to deal with in the coming years), the land is incredibly valuable for housing development purposes and the Jockey Club, lacking real cash to service debts, must have found it too hard to turn down £100 million.

That is fair enough, and there were other reasons for closure bar money, but the plan forward appears slightly dubious. The current plans include investment for Sandown racecourse, prizemoney increases, and crucially, a “New floodlit all-weather racecourse purpose-built for horsemen to be created within Jockey Club Racecourses should Kempton Park receive redevelopment approval, with Newmarket front-running location as Britain’s busiest racehorse Training Centre.”

One of the principal reasons for Kempton’s closure as pointed out by many observers was for the lack of attendance for many of the fixtures at Kempton, especially on the All-Weather track. Attendances could be well below 1,000 and the Winter festival (King George if you’re wondering) was the only fixture that would bring 10,000 or more through the gates; those who went to the lowly attended fixtures would often report back of a soulless atmosphere that wasn’t doing much for anyone but bookmakers.

Trainers in Newmarket, the centre of flat racing in the UK, will surely rejoice at having an all-weather track on their doorstep and perhaps the often-forgotten stable staff will too give the shorter trips home.

However, those same centres are no more than an hour from Chelmsford City (incidentally about to become a casino), and two from Lingfield, courses which have a huge number of fixtures per year, and plenty which are run for decent prize money to boot too (and that’s not including the AW Championship Finals).

At the time of the last census Newmarket had a population of 20,384 – most, if not all of them, involved in racing. The attendances will do no better than Kempton, especially given the cost difficulty of reaching the area via public transport, and the quality of racing at Chelmsford City, Lingfield, and especially Newcastle, just recently turned to the AW, which had received a surprising amount of winter runners from Newcastle.

It has not been confirmed where the races over jumps will go, with Sandown a fine arena but an entirely different test to Kempton, a speed course in a game where there are not enough (the only other being Aintree that hosts a true crown jewel, in this opinion). Drainage investment is apparently high on the list in a redevelopment, and it will be a necessity if the hurdle races that are run there will not succumb to very testing ground at Christmas time given the frequent use of that strip of racing.

From a purely racing perspective, the strategic planning of the Jockey Club can be called into question. It was only in 2005 that the Kempton track was turned to the AW, after all, and the £500m reinvestment into racing will surely command at least £100m for the creation of the Newmarket course, the town’s third. It remains to be seen what happens for all, but there look to be some significant losers as well as winners.

At Kempton, the racecourse, the Lanzarote (2.40) is as competitive as ever but it could be that Doesyourdogbite has the progression left in him to make it four on the trot. He has plenty in hand when taking the closing handicap hurdle here at Boxing Day with more in hand than the winning margin of two lengths suggested and that suggests he can cope with a 6lbs rise.

The (2.05) is an incredibly tight four runner contest but if Quite By Chance hadn’t run at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day then he would be a good deal shorter than the 7/1 you can get on him here. His fourth in the December Gold Cup reads very well in this context and this is Actival’s first run of the season, and one could say that Vibrato Valtat and Vantieux have something to prove.

Onto Ireland, and the rumbling phenomenon that comes every closer in the shape of the Cheltenham Festival. It starts with what is looking to be one of the most open Supreme Novice Hurdles’ in a long time, one with many exciting contenders. The Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle (2.10) at Punchestown today has proven to be a very good guide in the past and plenty have cottoned onto the fact that he has made the cut from an impressive 5 day entry haul that included impressive winners Cliaos Emery and Bunk Off Early.

He’s been seen out once, at Clonmel in December, when he travelled well before finding a reasonable amount for pressure before then beating Coquine D’Aunou by a relatively comfortable margin whilst being made to work for it. It was encouraging to see that rival – who reappears here -beat a hot favourite at Limerick and do so comfortably since. He’s been cut to 4/6 to win today and 12/1 for the Supreme, a price shorter than the 20 and 16/1 he was when followers were advised to take an each/way punt back in December.

He will have to win and well to justify those prices, and the ante post value is probably the better bet for those tempted by the 4/6. Runfordave, a game winner of his maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse who was set to make a wining challenge when falling at Fairyhouse over Christmas in an open rated hurdle, should test him, as should the 136 rated Dr Mikey, but the one of interest is another once raced hurdle winner.

Not much was expected of Any Second Now when he made his debut at Navan – he went off 66/1 – but the way that the son of Oscar came from 6th to first through the straight was deeply impressive and he promises to improve, perhaps being left without so much ground to make up. He won very easily that day and looks overpriced at 8/1. Calino D’Airy won by a neck on his debut at Down Royal and the form of that was boosted with a nice second for the runner up on his debut.

Earlier in the day in Ireland, the Beginners Chase (12.35) is a strong race where Mall Dini attempts to get off the mark over fences. The Pertemps winner of last year was a mile ahead of Arkwrisht when two decent horses beat him at Punchestown but he wants further based on that evidence here and will excel over 3 miles. Bachasson was coming to win his race when he fell at Thurles on his debut and if standing up he has a chance although the form has not worked out as well as one would hope since. Edwulf should find a race and he can enjoy the drop in trip to boot.

At Warwick, One For Arthur makes a great deal of appeal in the Classic Chase. This is a fiercely contested renewal, but there’s nothing not to like about what he’s done in two starts this season after growing a good deal during the summer. An eight-length winner on his return at Ayr, he was upped sharply in class when sent to the Becher Chase, but he was well backed and was a fine fifth in a strong renewal. The form of that reads incredibly well and he gets to race off the same mark of 137 here which makes him the most appealingly handicapped horse here by far and his main enemy may be the ground. The big worry might be the ground, but he has decent runs on heavy before.

There are several other choices that make great appeal but if Sego Success can get round then he could be involved. He’s only 1lb higher than when last winning but 6lbs lower than when he got to the second and fell in last year’s renewal and the first time blinkers are an interesting addition given first time cheekpieces worked so well and in any case he’s always needed this far.

The Leamington Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (3.00) is a fascinating contest where Peregrine Run has much the best form courtesy of his Grade 2 win where he got the better of Wholestone and West Approach to boot. He’s still a very tempting choice here but the deepness of the ground here – especially given the best of his improvement has come after switching to a sounder surface – is offputting.

You can still buy tickets for Kempton Park Racecourse whilst it remains open.

Georgie Des Champs could still be improving after his second at Newbury on handicap debut and we know that he will be fine with the ground but considerations must also be given to Gayebury, who has strong form on heavy and kept pulling out more in front on his hurdling debut. Get On The Yager thrashed Willoughby Court by 13 lengths on debut before being beaten by another fine prospect in the French Furze; Ballyhill looks best at this distance but has more to find.

The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (2.25) is one of many fascinating legs in a series which brings all types of horses together. This is a traditionally strong leg and there were many that made appeal, but Cogry has already made the decision to revert to hurdling from chasing work with a hard fought win at Cheltenham and with the ground no problem and an extra trip sure to negate at least some part of an 6lbs rise, he makes appeal to run a big race once again.

Also of interest is another chaser, Fourth Act. He would not be the name that comes to mind when thinking of chasers from the Colin Tizzard yard but his second last run was a fine fourth in a well contested Cheltenham heat (following on from a very good fourth in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot). A fine staying chaser with a wide margin win on heavy ground, he’s 8lbs lower over hurdles before the addition of 10lbs claimer Angus Chelda and that makes him a bet too at 16/1.

The Hampton (1.50) is a fine contest where the winner will probably be seen at the Festival afterwards. Pobbles Bay managed to give Ibis Ru Rheu a fine beating and has earned his current mark of 146, whilst American looks a better chaser than he ever was a hurdler as judged on a line through Label Des Obeaux; That is definitely true of Mystical Knight, who was a comprehensive winner over Chef D’oeuvre here four weeks ago, but Champers On Ice has arguably shown more raw ability than all of them and whilst this is going to be a tough first real chasing test (he had nothing to do on his debut at Lingfield, but still beat Duelling Banjos by five more lengths than Mythical Knight did. His thirds on trials day and in the Albert Bartlett over hurdles at Cheltenham read very well and he can take the beating.

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