Mike Cattermole: Kauto Star Crescent
Mike Cattermole says the thought of a new AW track at HQ leaves him cold, but is ready to embrace the King George VI Chase's move to Sandown.
Thistlecrack wins what could potentially prove to have been one of the last renewals of the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
Time called on unloved Kempton
Well, that was a bolt from the blue!
So, the offer of developing Kempton Park into a much-needed housing estate has proved impossible to resist for The Jockey Club. It must have been a tough decision, this – heart versus head – but with the company's prodigious recent investment portfolio sending them over £100m in debt, the head would always win the day.
The Jockey Club say that they need at least £100m from the sale for the closure to be confirmed and there will hurdles to jump over – forgive the pun. But in teaming up with Redrow, a giant in the housing development world, you can rest assured that the necessary groundwork and investigations have been done and this is a deal that is long odds-on to happen.
Any news about a racecourse closing is sad news, even if Kempton only seems to come to life these days when there is jumping taking place, especially so at the Christmas King George fixture. It is an irony that, in years to come, many souls will be living and playing on the sometime soulless acres of the Kempton grasslands.
Many's the time I have been there for an evening of winter Flat racing and you can almost count the individuals making up the "crowd". And yet I have always enjoyed my visits, including many on the Polytrack, especially under the floodlights.
However, it does seem an anomaly that the track, which is closest to the centre of London since the closure of nearby Hurst Park in 1962, was never universally accepted as the capital's racecourse.
There is more to that than just a failure on the marketing front. For example, leisure pursuits have changed hugely since the big crowds of the 1960s. I have been banging on for years about making it free admission for the floodlit and other Flat racing meetings, just to get people in there. But it would have needed much more than that, of course.
For a metropolitan track, Kempton has not got the capacity for huge crowds, ie greater than, say, 25,000. Neither, at the moment, does Sandown Park, which will eventually be the new home for the King George VI Chase. I can't see any reason not to embrace that transfer. Top three-mile chasers tackling the Railway Fences et al? Bring it on!
Sandown has long been my favourite all-year round track but it is in need of some major investment and a brand new grandstand and auxiliary buildings must surely be designed and built to enable bigger crowds to be comfortably accommodated.
Both the wonderful bronze statues of Kempton legends Desert Orchid and Kauto Star will be found a new home on the Esher slopes, which sort of fits as both won Tingle Creek Chases there.
Meanwhile, the plan to build a new all-weather track at Newmarket – on the site of the current golf course, by the sounds of it – doesn't excite. A third racecourse at HQ? And Chelmsford City is only half an hour away. Is it really needed?
We all have some fond memories of Kempton. Mine include enjoying a Boxing Day breakfast with the Channel 4 crew after the Morning Line and later sitting alongside John Francome in the paddock box watching the likes of Kauto Star as we freezed our proverbials off.
But most of all, owning a very small share in Australia Day and being there to see him smashing the track record on both the hurdles and chase courses. Liam Treadwell's beaming face as he and Skippy returned after defying a mark of 145 in May 2014 will stay with me. Skippy was superb that day and it turned out to be his swansong.
However, four seasons before, I had found myself in the commentary box as Skippy went off the 1/2 favourite to beat Katchit in the conditions hurdle in October. Nervous? I almost hyperventilated! It certainly wasn't a Peter O'Sullevan-esque performance!
So, to the future. Stand by for Desert Orchid Drive, Kauto Star Crescent and Wayward Lad Way, which may be all that is left to remind those inhabitants of the Sunbury development of the exploits of those and other great chasers whose ghosts might be seen and heard in their very own backyards.
Coneygree shows strain of winning Gold Cup
When Coneygree stormed up the hill to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2015 on just his fourth start over fences, there were many who believed that it wouldn't be his only Gold Cup triumph.
Now, with the news that he won't be making it to the race in two months' time, thus missing out for the second year running, the chances of his just lining up for another crack at the golden prize look remote. After all, even if he stays sound, Mark Bradstock's gelding will be 11 when the 2018 Gold Cup comes around.
It's such a shame that his wonderfully talented performer has had his difficulties since that unforgettable day nearly two years ago, but winning a Gold Cup can take a hefty toll. Not every horse is lucky enough to be as physically sound or as tough as a Best Mate, a Kauto Star or a Denman.
Indeed, the future for last year's winner Don Cossack looked bleak just weeks after his finest hour when it was revealed that he had injured a tendon. Remarkably, he seems to be on the comeback trail now, but we will see how he fares.
Looking back to other winners in the past two decades or so shows that many top chasers have suffered for winning chasing's Blue Riband. Master Oats, runaway winner in 1995 and who looked an unstoppable force that day, was nowhere near the same horse in his six subsequent starts.
Mr Mulligan, who only raced twice after the 1997 race, also sustained a tendon injury that led to his retirement and it was a similar story with his stablemate Looks Like Trouble who, over the next two years after his win in 2000, had just three more chase starts (although he did win two of them).
Cool Dawn, surprise winner in 1998, raced just four more times, pulling up in three of those. More recently, Imperial Commander who beat Denman in 2010, won the Betfair Chase later that year but was then plagued with soundness issues and was seen out just four more times in the following three years, also being pulled up on three occasions.
So, Coneygree winning the Gold Cup as an inexperienced novice was a wonderful story, albeit one that came at a cost. Thistlecrack, due another run at Cheltenham later this month, will be lining up with five runs under his belt in March but connections will be aware that however good you are, this is a mission that can leave a mark. History tells us so.
Duty grinds it out but where is Blow By Blow?
Speaking of the Gold Cup, it doesn't require a fertile imagination to see Death Duty lining up for one in the next two or three years.
You could see why Gordon Elliott had had the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle in mind for Death Duty after watching this relentless galloper maintain his unbeaten record in the Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
All of his wins so far have been over 21/2m but he will clearly stay further – and he is bred to – and he really powered past the line here, suggesting to me at least that he would have seen off Augusta Kate, who fell when alongside him at the last.
Some thought that Willie Mullins's mare was getting the better of the argument, and of course we will never know, but I felt that her not getting quite high enough was a sign that she was coming to the end of her tether.
Death Duty looks to have a very bright future for Gigginstown House Stud but we are unlikely to see him again now until the Festival.
The last horse to beat Death Duty was Blow By Blow, in a bumper at Fairyhouse last March – no mean effort given that the winner went on to win the Champion Bumper at Punchestown from Moon Racer, no less.
Blow By Blow, also owned by Gigginstown, was of course a member of the big transfer party that headed from Mullins to Elliott. His new trainer was said to be very excited about him in the autumn but nothing has been heard on the grapevine for a few weeks now.
One can only assume that his preparation has not gone as well as it might, but let's hope he is on the track again soon as few will have a hurdling debut as keenly anticipated as this one. At the moment, he is the forgotten horse.
After all of the Christmas excitement, January is one tough month to endure. Although we have gone past the shortest day, there is precious little to get really excited about – apart from the FA Cup maybe, and an annual golf trip to Portugal with a few mates at the end of the month!
The worst of the winter is probably yet to come and some of the racing can be pretty dull stuff. No wonder many owners and trainers retreat to Barbados.
Although I accept that there are some good horses in action on the all-weather these days (and also in Meydan, although I have always struggled to get into it), the jumps programme can be a hostage to fortune with the weather.
Last Saturday's fare, which featured a £100,000 veterans chase at Sandown and of course the Tolworth Hurdle, would get a real shot in the arm if the Welsh National was staged on the same day.
At the moment, Chepstow's big one has to share the limelight with Kempton's festive fare but, if it had the stage to itself on the first Saturday after the New Year, it would easily stand on its own and top the bill.
The race would be as vulnerable to the weather as it would be in its current slot but it would still be far enough away from the Gold Cup for that not to be an issue.
The Classic Chase at Warwick would have to be pushed back too. But it's the people of Monmouthshire who would probably take most convincing as their big day out over Christmas would be taken away.
Hmm, on second thoughts…
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