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 Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 07:20 GMT
Tracking Kempton's future
Irish hero Florida Pearl leads the way in the 2001 King George VI Chase
Florida Pearl leads the way in the 2001 King George

Consider turkey without the stuffing and you'll understand some people's reactions to radical moves at Kempton Park racecourse.

Course officials have angered several top trainers by announcing the possibility of abandoning jump racing at the venue.

One option being considered is to transform Kempton, home of the famous King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, into a lavish all-weather track.

Opponents believe that would be a major blow to National Hunt racing as a whole.

Kempton Park
Founded: 1878
Where: Sunbury-on-Thames
Fixtures: 26 in 2002
Flat: 14
Jumps: 12

But Kempton's management insist no decision has been taken, and the idea is merely up for consultation.

Managing director Julian Thick told BBC Sport Online: "We've got a really good business now, but we need to look at the position for the next 20 years or so.

"One of the options we've looked at is whether Kempton should become a high-quality, floodlit all-weather track.

"We think that is an opportunity we are interested in, but there would be massive challenges in fixtures, funding and planning before we can even make a decision."

The King George will definitely be run at Kempton in 2002 and 2003, but the future is less clear, with Sandown Park noted as a potential future home.

"We have had a first round of consultation with the industry. We are currently taking those views on board," said Thick.

Our interest is providing the next generation of all-weather track

Julian Thick
Kempton Park MD

"The view that has come out loud and clear is that people have a great deal of respect for our National Hunt racing.

"Finding the right home for the King George if, and I stress if, we decide to go to all-weather track racing is one of the things we would have to do.

"A high-quality all-weather track is one option that does seem quite attractive to us.

"It is widely accepted within the industry that there is an opportunity for somebody to take all-weather racing to the next level and to put some really high-quality racing on."

Thick said no decision will be made before the spring of 2003.

"Our interest is in providing what we call the next generation of all-weather track - a really high-quality one," he added.

"That's one with perfectly designed layout, track, excellent customer service facilities, floodlighting, with major investment and changes to the site.

"Those are things we need to discuss with people. We need to discuss them with the local residents, the local authority, and with the industry.

"We'll be running 27 fixtures at Kempton next year - we would certainly be wanting a significant increase on that if we were to pursue an all-weather track."

While Kempton hosts a range of Flat and jump racing fixtures, the King George is its focal point and a switch to Sandown is not popular.

Champion jump jockey on the Desert Orchid statue at Kempton Park
Tony McCoy on the Desert Orchid statue at Kempton

The Boxing Day race is the mid-season championship for the sport's top staying steeplechasers, second only in prestige to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

And Kempton's flat speedy track, where flying grey Desert Orchid won the event a record four times, has been the race's essence for half-a-century.

Thick would not be drawn on whether Sandown had been earmarked to host the race.

"All we would say about Sandown Park is it's an excellent racetrack, it's just down the road and we think we've done a pretty good job in redeveloping it," said Thick.

"It's widely known as one of the most exciting jump courses in Britain. It would obviously be an important contender for the future of the race.

"We accept that if the King George was moved to Sandown Park, it would be a different race, but it certainly wouldn't be any worse."

Others would fiercely argue that point as Kempton prepares for a busy period on, and off, the track.

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25 Jun 02 | Horse Racing
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