Kempton Bombshell. That was the headline in the Racing Post as Britain plans to bulldoze another turf track and build another all-weather. As John Gorka sings, “They’re growing houses in the fields between the towns. And the Starlight drive-in movie’s closing down the road is gone to the way it was before. And the spaces won’t be spaces anymore.”
No, the spaces won’t be spaces anymore.
Gone are the seasons in Britain – flat season, jump season. Born is the soup – year-round, all-weather dross. Kempton Park? It’s like you have to shake your head and read it again. Kempton Park, one of the premier stops for National Hunt racing. The King George VI. Kauto Star. Desert Orchid. Thistlecrack. And so many others long before my time. The King George VI will move to Sandown Park. Sandown has its place, of course, an iconic track with the Railway Fences, the Pond Fence, the long, stamina-searching climb to the finish, but it’s not Kempton Park and it’s not the place for the King George VI. And Sandown can’t withstand more pounding, more miles, more hoof prints.
Kempton dealt with the devil years before, creating an all-weather track, which is nothing more than a belt for the conveyor, fast food at the betting-shop, a version of most of American racing. But its turf track, its National Hunt course is different.
Kempton Park becoming houses, to fund an all-weather track near Newmarket. Another floodlit footprint, a cookie cutter, a well-worn stamp of boringness, horses going around in circles. My favorite part of traveling to racecourses around Britain is that they’re all different, you walk out and stand there and say, “Look at this, Fontwell goes in a figure eight.” “Whoa, Chepstow has long straightaways.” “Glorious, wow, glorious Goodwood.” That’s changing. Thoroughbred racing prides itself on being more than numbers at a casino while we turn our racing into little more than numbers at a casino.
The Jockey Club, in charge of Kempton Park and other tracks, certainly didn’t make this decision lightly. The stewards, the custodians, of a grand old game are forced to make decisions in the cold light of day, the reality of today. Not easy, but from over here, it looks as though England is going the American way. Have you ever watched a 45-60 handicap from Chelmsford City? Or a 45-60 from Newcastle? It resembles the drab dullness of American dirt racing in the dead of winter in front of no one. More turn over, less turn up.
Speaking of Kempton Park. Alcatraz has produced two decent efforts there this year, finishing second twice in all-weather handicaps, beaten a short head in his most recent foray and being raised two pounds for it. Fodder? He earned £1,402.87 and £1,395.62, that’s $3,497.83. Far from lucrative, but at least he’s showing glimmers of daylight – a far cry from Kempton Park and the world of turf racing.
"...And the spaces won’t be spaces anymore.”