Kempton axe ‘sad’ for racing
Simon Sherwood, the man who partnered Desert Orchid to two of his four King George VI Chase wins, feels the closure of Kempton would be "sad" for racing.
Tony McCoy sits on the statue of Desert Orchid at Kempton Park
Sherwood enjoyed his best days in the saddle on board David Elsworth's popular grey and is still intrinsically linked to National Hunt racing through his role as clerk of the course at Ludlow.
With plans in place to move the King George to Sandown, Sherwood believes the great race will lose some of its appeal due to the different nature of the two courses.
"To lose any course is bad for racing, but when it's one with such a high profile and so much history then it is especially so," said Sherwood.
"I'm obviously not privy to the financial reasoning behind but, sadly as we've seen with Folkestone, it seems to be the way of the world.
"It's a decision than hasn't been made lightly but it came totally out of the blue.
"Kempton is known as a jumping track more than a Flat track, and if anything can be done to save it then I'll throw my hat into the ring and get behind whatever.
"I'll be sad if the King George moves to Sandown, which is a great track in its own right, but it's very different to Kempton.
"You need a completely different horse to win over three miles at Kempton compared to Sandown, Kempton is a speed test while Sandown is about stamina.
"There appears to be no other likely option, though.
"The King George has always been the pinnacle of racing at Christmas.
"Dessie was always in his element there, we enjoyed a couple of decent days, but you need a completely different horse to what is required to win a Gold Cup, that is why it's a special race."
By contrast, Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of the Jockey Club, the group which owns Kempton, feels the King George could even benefit by a switch of venue.
He told At The Races: "We feel we can deliver all the National Hunt and all-weather fixtures, including iconic races like the King George VI Chase, as well as, if not better, elsewhere.
"The National Hunt world is absolutely critical to us and if we felt we were going to weaken the programme we wouldn't do this but we feel we can enhance it, not just taking the King George to Sandown but by taking fixtures all over the country."
Bazalgette did, though, issue a caveat that a possible new all-weather course at Newmarket will not be built to cater for the masses.
He added: "We're not expecting to get crowds of 20,000 for the all-weather at Newmarket.
"It's very separate from the other tracks – it will be an all-weather track focussed on owners and trainers."
Plans remain fluid concerning the eventual whereabouts of the Desert Orchid and Kauto Star statutes at Kempton, should the track close down. The two horses' ashes are also buried by their respective statutes at the track.
Jockey Club media director Scott Bowers said: "A lot needs to happen before a decision on them will be made, this is the very first step, announcing the proposal.
"We'll get in contact with the owners of the statues and rather than speculate now we'll discuss what is best for the future of them.
Charlie Langton, sculptor of the Kauto Star statue, said: "I've been wondering what will happen to it myself. I'd love to know.
"Hopefully they'll find somewhere nice."
Newmarket trainers Hugo Palmer and Roger Varian welcomed plans for a new all-weather track at the so-called home of Flat racing.
Palmer said: "I believe there is something like 40 per cent of the Flat horses are stabled in Newmarket and on that front it is very much bringing the mountain to Mohammed.
"The closure of any racecourse should not be celebrated, though.
"The Jockey Club, though, seem totally committed putting back every penny of the #500million they would make back into racing."
Varian said; "If extra funding is made available to go into prize-money and upgrades at other tracks I can see it only being a good thing in the long term, although I do sympathise with the jumps trainers.
"From a biased point of view, having an all-weather track on the door step will be beneficial, but I think you have got to look at the bigger picture as this money will be spent through most regions of Jockey Club Racecourses."
A petition has been set up on www.change.org under the headline, 'Save Kempton Park Racecourse'.