Alex Hammond: Dessie heights
The Sky Sports racing expert reflects on the shock news regarding Kempton's proposed closure and offers her weekend fancies.
What are your thoughts on the potential closure of Kempton Park and the possibility of an all-weather course being built in Newmarket?
Well, like the majority of the racing world I was shocked and disappointed to hear the news this week.
I can't see how the closure of such an historic track can be called progress, but I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision to make by owners the Jockey Club.
Most of us are resistant to change, but it often turns out for the best and I hope that is the case if they go ahead and close the Sunbury venue in 2021. To be honest, Kempton lost a bit of its lustre for me when the Flat track was replaced with an all-weather and whilst I can see that it was important for the viability of the track, I felt it detracted from its stature.
The important point going forward is that we don't forget Kempton. Don't be ridiculous I hear you cry! But in generations to come, Kempton (if it does close, which looks inevitable) will be a fictitious location where good horses once ran.
"My gran/grandad told me about Arkle, Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Thistlecrack," they will say and for those that weren't lucky enough to see them in the flesh, it simply won't hold the same significance to those that were there.
Examples I can think of that I can relate to are Alexandra Park, Bogside, Gatwick, Hurst Park, Lanark, Lewes, Manchester, Stockton & Wye. None of those aforementioned courses mean anything to me. I couldn't tell you what races were held there or if any decent horses ran there. Let's hope Kempton with its great history doesn't go the same way for future racing fans.
I would imagine trainers based in Flat racing HQ will be delighted that a new all-weather course could be built in Newmarket. I'm not sure officials at Chelmsford will be quite so enthralled as it is likely to take business away from the Essex venue.
Having read the statement it mentioned that an 'intimate venue' could be created and that is something that would be well received I'm sure. Also, racing staff in Newmarket will be whooping with joy that long journeys back from some of the more distant all-weather venues could become a rarity.
On the other hand, playing devil's advocate, Newmarket is a blooming long way if you don't LIVE IN Newmarket. An obvious statement I know, but for anyone that has made the regular journey round the M25, M11 and A14 will agree that it isn't the most accessible part of the country.
I don't have a strong view about a new course being created, just a strong view on the loss of an iconic one.
Although we wouldn't want to get ahead of ourselves, what's your favourite memory of racing at Kempton Park?
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My favourite memory is of a horse I just mentioned – Desert Orchid.
He (and he alone) was the reason I fell in love with the sport. I wasn't born into racing, in fact I don't come from a 'horsey' family. I dragged my long-suffering parents into ponies thanks to an obsessive love of all things equine and that included devouring anything to do with them in my formative years.
There wasn't a weekend that went by that I wasn't watching the coverage on TV and my first true love was that dashing grey. I remember watching him winning one of his King Georges and the love affair began.
Kempton, of course, race this Saturday. Have you a fancy in the Lanzarote Hurdle or elsewhere on the card?
That one is easy to answer, I do fancy one in the Lanzarote Hurdle. If he runs, I'll be with Protek Des Flos for Nicky Henderson.
He is well regarded by connections, so I was a tad disappointed that he could only finish 55 lengths back in fourth in the Grade Two Berkshire Novices' Chase at Newbury on his chasing debut back in November.
He was having his first run for JP McManus that day and was well backed, but he made a couple of mistakes which cost him.
So back over hurdles I hope we see more of the old spark and he looked like the type to do better with another summer on his back and with a bit more time to grow up. I highlighted him as a horse to follow this season and would love to see him fulfil his considerable potential.
The other feature meeting, providing it beats the weather, takes place at Warwick. Does anything take the eye among the entries?
Ballycross has a nice weight and won't mind if conditions deteriorate in the Betfred Classic Chase. He is only a six year old and could give Willy Twiston-Davies another big Saturday winner since his return to National Hunt racing.
The horse is trained by his father, Nigel, who provided him with the winning ride on Cogry at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. 'Nige' (as the boys call him) said last season that this horse had just taken time to grow up, so a few more months on his back will have done him no harm. He is an Irish point-to-point winner and has taken well to fences this season with some decent runs in good company.
There's no reason a further step up in trip won't suit, in fact he should relish it, and providing his jumping holds up should give Twiston-Davies junior a good spin.
One horse that usually gives punters a good run for their money is the Gordon Elliott-trained Bless The Wings. He should be a decent price and he stays all day, so will relish this test of stamina. Granted his rating doesn't scream 'well handicapped', but if he lines up you could have worse horses on your side than this old boy.
Finian's Oscar is all the rage following his victory in the Tolworth Hurdle last Saturday, can you see him winning at Cheltenham?
Yes! He looks the real deal and I was delighted to see him perform so well last weekend. Colin Tizzard must feel like pinching himself at the moment such is the wealth of talent at his disposal.
He is 6/1 with the sponsors for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (non-runner no bet) and there's no reason he can't stick at two miles as he has a high cruising speed and certainly doesn't lack pace.
Sky Bet have him as their 4/1 favourite for the Neptune, which seemed the likely destination in the immediate aftermath of his Sandown win. He's an Irish point winner (three miles) and his Rules debut win at Hereford was over two miles, five and a half.
However, I don't think I'd be making any decision yet if I was his trainer and would rather wait to see who is likely to turn up where. Having said that, the trainers of his rivals are most likely to be doing just that with this fabulously exciting young horse their biggest threat.
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