Gay Kelleway: Kempton is a joke

The proposed closure of Kempton Park and the building of a new all-weather course at Newmarket has caused strong feelings among trainers at the home of British Flat racing.

Runners and riders race at Kempton Park on January 17

John Berry, a former mayor of the town, is totally against the proposals, while Gay Kelleway is all for the plans, describing it as a "no brainer".

It was announced last week Kempton 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 a new all-weather venue to be built if that idea goes ahead.

The Jockey Club's land at The Links in Newmarket is the front-runner as the location for a new floodlit artificial track, with the King George VI Chase switching to Sandown.

Berry said: "I think both are bad ideas. The primary idea of closing Kempton has to be avoided at all costs. The closure of any racecourse should only be done as a very last resort, and particularly one of our best courses and one of the best situated.

"There are three racecourses in Greater London, the country's biggest conurbation. That's why moving the Champion Stakes to Ascot (from Newmarket) was trying to engage the sport with where people are.

Gay Kelleway on the proposals "It would be the best thing ever. Chantilly, the capital of French horse racing, they've got an all-weather track. Newmarket needs one. It's a no-brainer. Kempton is a joke. You turn the telly on and there's three runners in a Listed chase."
Gay Kelleway on the proposals

"If they (Jockey Club) were to close Kempton they would be wise to own an all-weather track instead because it keeps up the proportion of fixtures they have and staging all-weather meetings is profitable.

"I can see if they close Kempton why they would want to create a new one, but I don't think Newmarket is the right place for it.

"Last year we celebrated 350 years of continuous racing at Newmarket. Our biggest selling point is we have a reputation for unique excellence and for prestige.

"I train ordinary horses and run them in ordinary races, so I'm not elitist in that respect, but all-weather racing is second-tier racing.

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"Newmarket's reputation for excellence is our biggest selling point. Kempton still has turf racing over jumps, but its prestige has suffered massively since it had all-weather racing. I think it would be idiotic to undermine Newmarket's reputation for excellence.

"A secondary point is, as a Newmarket trainer I didn't get involved in the Newcastle debate but a lot of Newmarket trainers did and were adamant that the building of an all-weather track should be opposed if its building meant ripping up of one of the best turf tracks in the country.

"The building of an all-weather track at Newmarket would be contingent to ripping up one of the best turf tracks in the country, ie Kempton's National Hunt course.

"The general stance taken by Newmarket trainers was to oppose Newcastle, so we can't be branded hypocrites.

"It is very important we do not support a scheme for building an all-weather track at Newmarket that is dependent on digging up one of the best turf tracks in the country."

Kelleway, however, believes there would be many benefits from having an all-weather track at Newmarket.

"It would be the best thing ever. You want to (try) be stuck on the M25 on the way home after racing (at Kempton). I drive the lorry. It's the worst nightmare.

"Chantilly, the capital of French horse racing, they've got an all-weather track. Newmarket needs one. It's a no-brainer.

"Trainers from all over Europe would come. The French would come and there'd be proper races here. It would raise the profile.

"Kempton is a joke. You turn the telly on and there's three runners in a Listed chase.

"You've got to move on. I've been training 26 years and I remember some trainers didn't want all-weather racing."

Stable staff would get a boost from an all-weather track on their doorstep, according to Kelleway.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that you lose a lot of staff because of the so many miles of travelling. I know, I do it myself," she said.

"Stable staff have to suffer coming home after the last at Wolverhampton on a Friday night with roads shut. I've been back at two in the morning and then you've got to get up early on Saturday morning to start over again.

"You see the stable staff that go racing and they look exhausted.

"I've just sent six horses down to the south of France. There are races for them and the prize money is good. What I like is it's one trip there and one trip back. It's nice for the staff – it's a change.

"You've got to think forward. It would be good for racing. We have to modernise."

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