Kempton to close under shock Jockey Club plans

Racing in Britain received a seismic jolt yesterday after Jockey Club Racecourses announced that Kempton, home of the historic King George VI Chase, could be closed for housing redevelopment “from 2021 at the earliest”.

Kempton to close under shock Jockey Club plans

The track’s owners, which operates 14 other racecourses in Britain, hopes to invest £500million into the sport in a 10-year plan - with the end of National Hunt and Flat racing at Kempton its most radical proposal.

The Jockey Club said in a statement that a request would be made to transfer the King George, and a clutch of other big Kempton races, to nearby Sandown.

And to fill the void left by the potential absence of a Flat track at Kempton, the Jockey Club’s land at The Links in Newmarket is the “front-running location” for a new floodlit all-weather circuit.

In partnership with housing contractor Redrow Homes, the Kempton estate has been submitted for consideration following Spelthorne Borough Council’s ‘Call for Sites’ to address unmet local housing needs.

But the Jockey Club insists that Kempton will only be closed down if the move generates in excess of £100m investment and that the proposed all-weather circuit at Newmarket is given the green light.

Jockey Club senior steward Roger Weatherby said: “The decision to submit our estate at Kempton Park for consideration in the local plan is unique and has not been taken lightly.

“Our board of stewards are horsemen and, having carefully considered what we can achieve in the long-run from doing so, are unanimously of the view that British racing is better served by us doing so.”

The King George VI Chase, staged each year on St Stephen’s Day, is one of the great races in the jumps season.

Desert Orchid won the race four times before Kauto Star stunned the racing world with a fifth triumph in 2011. The two horses’ ashes are buried by their respective statutes at Kempton.

Sandown would be the chief beneficiary of the major investment, with plans in place to market it as “London’s premier dual-code racecourse”.

Kempton’s other jumps fixtures could be spread around other Jockey Club-owned racecourses throughout the country, though consultation with the British Horseracing Authority and the wider sport would be needed.

Jockey Club chief executive Simon Bazalgette said: “We know there will some not happy, but we feel it is in the long-term interests of racing.”

Bazalgette added that a new racecourse at Newmarket could become “Europe’s best all-weather circuit, with all the facilities one would expect”.

Redrow Homes said in a statement that the Kempton site could provide “circa 3,000 new homes”.

Alan Doyle, chairman of campaign group Keep Kempton Green, branded the proposals as “shocking”.

Doyle said: “It’s a real shock. There was talk of about 2,000 houses being built on the land, but we managed to persuade local council to oppose those plans.

“But now they are talking about 3,000 houses. I don’t think it will be 3,000 as that site can hold a lot more than that. Even if it’s 3,000 houses, that’s 6,000 cars on a road down which you cannot move at rush hour, even now.

“We in Sunbury also have officially the most overloaded health centre in England in Sunbury Health Centre.

“Our schools are also overcrowded and, like all the boroughs on the periphery of London, we are full.

“And then there’s Kempton Park. They (Jockey Club) want to bulldoze their racecourse, which is part of our local community - the King George meeting is a big social occasion and there are lots of other big meeting there.

Doyle added: “The council is firmly against development on Kempton Park, but it’s ultimately going to come down to a planning inspector.

“It’s public knowledge that opposition around here is almost 100 per cent, so there’s no point in making a point to the Jockey Club - waving placards is not going to solve anything. Our fight is now with the council and we will probably then eventually fight it at a planning inquiry at some stage.”

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