Oliver Sherwood issues Kempton rallying call

Wed 11 Jan 2017

Grand National-winning trainer Oliver Sherwood believes the National Hunt racing fraternity should not "lie down and accept" the Jockey Club's plan to close Kempton.

It was announced on Tuesday that home of the historic King George VI Chase could be closed for housing redevelopment "from 2021 at the earliest".

The Jockey Club hopes to invest £500million into the sport in a 10-year plan, with nearby Sandown receiving some significant upgrades as well as being the proposed new home for the King George and a clutch of other big Kempton races.

However, Sherwood, who is based in Lambourn, feels strongly about the proposals and admitted to being worried about the future of National Hunt racing.

"The feeling in Lambourn is shock and horror. We didn't even get an inkling that something like this could be happening," Sherwood told At The Races.

"I find it quite staggering and I hope to goodness it's not one nail in the coffin for National Hunt racing, going more like America and all-weather racing all of the time.

"Kempton is part of our heritage. We've lost Folkestone, Hereford has just come back and now we are losing Kempton. They are three right-handed courses, a lot of horses prefer to go that way so two of those have disappeared.

"It's all very well putting in a new all-weather track at Newmarket, but that is not so good for the Flat trainers in Lambourn.

"Kempton is a very well-drained course and when you get the wet winters, you tend to know certain tracks will get better ground than others, Kempton is one and Doncaster another.

"If the Jockey Club show us the 'unique package' they talk about, rather than just dropping it on us like they did, then we might be able to understand it. If they showed us the pluses and minuses then maybe we could understand.

"The way they dropped it and just talked about maintaining racing's heritage and this 'unique package' - well that's just words to me. Show us the sums and what they want to do and we might understand."

When asked if he was fearful for jump racing, Sherwood added: "Yes, in one word, very much so.

"This time yesterday we didn't even know about it, it's all happened very quickly but we've got to get our heads together and speak to the Jockey Club and hope we might come up with some package to save Kempton.

"I don't think we want to lie down and accept it, we need to get our heads together for a save Kempton campaign. W e can't lie down and forget about it.

"Moving the races to Sandown doesn't soften the blow. Sandown is a fantastic track, (but) the one thing people love about our racing is it is so diverse, the difference in the courses. The soil at Sandown is different, to chuck a load of races at it, I'm not sure it could cope. Esher high street couldn't cope with the traffic, that's a certainty.

"It's a sad day. With due respect to Folkestone and Hereford, this is a big track. A few years ago Newbury nearly went and who is to say in a few years time Sandown won't be next? It's worrying times for the jumping boys."

Sir Anthony McCoy described the prospect of Kempton being redeveloped for houses as "terrible".

He told The Times: "There will be a lot of people who will be disappointed. It is terrible we will be losing a grade one jumps track and we can't afford that.

"For grade one horses, indeed any horses, I am not sure Sandown has enough ground to cope with the fixtures it already has.

"It is not wide enough. At this time of year trying to get good, safe ground is paramount. The more racing, the less unused ground you get.

"There is no width around the bottom bend at Sandown, it is very narrow and there is nowhere to expand."

Meanwhile, Spelthorne Borough Council leaderIan Harveyhas reiterated his opposition to the idea of redeveloping Kempton.

The Jockey Club has paired up with Redrow Homes as its development partner and after Cllr Harvey called on the firm last year to"desist from unwanted desecration of desperately needed green belt space", his view remains the same.

He told www.getsurrey.co.uk: "I am fully aware of the views of local residents and have consistently made clear my strong opposition to development of this site and my determination to protect the green belt in Spelthorne," he said.

"I made my position absolutely clear in an open letter which I wrote to Redrow homes in April. Nothing has changed. "

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