Francome criticises Kempton proposals

Seven-times champion jumps jockey John Francome believes any potential transfer of the King George VI Chase to Sandown would have a damaging impact on the great race.

Owners Jockey Club Racecourses announced on Tuesday proposals to close down the King George's traditional home of Kempton for housing redevelopment "from 2021 at the earliest".

Should those plans come into fruition, the Jockey Club hopes that one of most prestigious National Hunt races of the season, the King George, will be switched to sister course Sandown.

But Francome, who twice won the Boxing Day highlight during his riding career, is adamant such a move would be a "huge mistake".

He told Sportsweek: "A lot of horses that have won the King George at Kempton aren't good enough to go and win at Cheltenham, and they wouldn't win at Sandown.

"It (Kempton) is right on the edge of the M25 – beautifully positioned. The ground is really well drained. It's a proper test and it's part of our history.

"It's a completely different track catering for different types of horses. At Sandown, Cheltenham and quite a few other tracks, you race downhill.

"Horses get to free-wheel. There's no free-wheeling at Kempton. It's a really, really good test.

"It's level, it's fair and you've got to be able to lay up with the pace the whole way.

"In many ways, it's the fairest test that there is.

"I just think it will be a huge mistake."

The Jockey Club, which operates 14 racecourses in Great 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.

Jockey Club chief executive Simon Bazalgette reiterated proposals to make Sandown London's premier dual-code racecourse, with the transfer of the King George its National Hunt centrepiece.

He said: "It's a very tough market to get people to go racing in London.

"We can really focus on Sandown, which, of course, everyone loves and is one of the best-viewing courses in the country.

"We can get racing back to being a core part of London life for millions of people.

"That's the transformation we think is possible here."

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.

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.

But Francome said: "There is already one (an all-weather track) 30 miles down the road at Chelmsford.

"If you gave an idiot a map of Britain and said, 'Where do you want another all-weather gallop?', he wouldn't put it at Newmarket."

Bazalgette believes a new all-weather circuit at the so-called home of British racing would make life "so much easier" for those who work in the industry.

He said: "It (Kempton) is actually nearer to Lingfield than Newmarket is to Chelmsford.

"By putting it at Newmarket, you've suddenly put it on the doorstep of the biggest training grounds in the world.

"Stable staff have to go and travel a lot to go racing. This makes their life so much easier.

"It does the most good for the most horsemen."

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.

Champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls would rather the King George be switched to Ascot, which is not owned by the Jockey Club, than Sandown.

He told Betfair: "I have had so many magical days at Kempton, some of the best of my career with lots of success, including nine winners of King George VI Chases, five of them by Kauto Star.

"So obviously I dread the thought of the doors at Kempton closing for the final time and hope it doesn't happen.

"And while I think all my King George winners would also have won the race at Sandown, because they stayed so well, I am not in favour of the proposal to switch the race there.

"Given the choice, I'd move it to Ascot, a much more suitable venue from a racing point of view as it is an outstanding jumps track with excellent facilities and the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a large crowd.

"That would be superb, much better than the race being held at Sandown which would be packed out with half that amount of people.

"Plus the fact that the ground is almost always bottomless there at that time of year.

"These are things that need to be seriously considered if Kempton is sold."

Read More at Sporting Life

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