Saturday, January 14, 2017

Cold Comfort Farm

Aaagghhh.  I've been putting this off.  One can't pretend that this subject doesn't exist and hasn't been dominating the British racing consciousness this week and thus write about something else; but it's just such a big topic that I don't know where to begin.  But I can't put it off indefinitely so here we go.  But what I will do is to restrict myself to six paragraphs (number pulled out of the air).  One could easily run to ten times that amount.  No doubt in the fullness of time I shall write more than 60 paragraphs on this issue because this is a serious subject about which there is a lot to say, and I shall keep returning to it.  But for tonight I shall only scratch the surface.  And, in case you've just got back from that week-long return trip to the moon on which you set out last weekend, I'm talking about the plan by Jockey Club Racecourses to close Kempton and build an AW track at Newmarket.  Double whammies don't come much less funny than this one, although last year we did have the Brexit vote followed by the election of Trump, which I suppose puts our relatively little hill of beans into context.

What has prompted me finally to begin to put finger to keyboard is receiving just now my weekly National Trainer's Federation email, in which I read that the plan has been 'welcomed in the locality' (referring to Newmarket).  Is that right?  I don't know.  There are more than seventy trainers in Newmarket, and the Racing Post quoted the opinions of three of them when giving us the Newmarket view.  One of them, Mark Tompkins, was effusive in his enthusiasm, while the other two, Roger Varian and Marco Botti, sounded lukewarm.  I have spoken to one Racing Post reporter (only briefly because I was in a rush at the time) and told him that I have reservations, about both the closure of Kempton and the building of an AW course in Newmarket; and I don't know how many others the paper has canvassed.

In short, though, it is impossible to deduce the Newmarket view from the Racing Post's coverage.  So I just don't know.  I've only discussed the matter with two Newmarket trainers (well, three if we include myself, and I have indeed been discussing it with myself for many hours over the past few days).  One of them was enthusiastically in favour of the plan; one one of them was strongly opposed.  Well, two of them were strongly opposed if we include me.  So my research indicates either a 50:50 split, or a 2:1 majority against the plan.  But that's meaningless as statistical analysis consulting merely three out of 70 is worthless: that is too small a sample.  I will be interested to find out how many dozens of Newmarket trainers the NTF has consulted (I am not one of them) to reach the conclusion that the plan has been welcomed in this locality.

What I do hope is that none of those in this locality who have supposedly come out in favour of the plan are among those Newmarket trainers who spoke out against Newcastle's plans to rip up one of the best turf courses in the country to create an AW track, a plan which many northern trainers welcomed as it would make life more convenient for them.  Newmarket trainers who have welcomed JCR's plan appear to be doing so on the basis that the new set-up would be more convenient for us; and this plan, of course, can only come to fruition if one of the best turf tracks in the country (ie the National Hunt course at Kempton) is ripped up.  Presumably all those in this town who spoke out against the Newcastle plan are also against the JCR plan - because, of course, we wouldn't want to think that there are any hypocrites training here.

The problem that we in Newmarket have is that our local racecourse is a JCR course, and in recent years we have, on the evidence of how our local course is run, had reason to believe that JCR is doing a very good job.  The thing, of course, is that we have been exposed to our local JCR team, who are very good; while this brave new JCR world has been cooked up by their overlords.  Even so, our loyalty to our local JCR people makes it hard for us to acknowledge that their superiors are in the process of making a major cock-up.  Basically, closing any racecourse (particularly if you put on your website that you were "formed with the objective of securing the future of racecourses for horseracing") is an absolute very last resort - and even more so if that racecourse is one of the best racecourses in the country and one of the best situated, ie a metropolitan one.

It appears that JCR is in dire straits financially, reportedly with debts of £115 million and with a credit rating so low that it cannot borrow any more money.  Under the circumstances, some tough decisions clearly need to be faced.  But is closing Kempton really the least unsatisfactory solution?  If it is indeed the case that the company has been brought so badly to its knees that it really has to close Kempton, then one has to put a major query over the competence of the people running JCR.  If, however, it is the case that JCR doesn't have to close Kempton but its chiefs want to do so anyway, then one arguably has to put an even greater query over the bigwigs.  Difficult, isn't it?  And if Kempton is closed - well, it's easy to see why JCR would be wise to acquire a replacement AW track.  And it's easy to see why Newmarket might appeal to JCR as a potential site, because it wouldn't have to buy the land on which to put the course.  But from Newmarket's point of view?  Potential disaster, the last thing that anyone who cares about Newmarket's past and future could desire.  No doubt we'll return to this subject anon.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

interesting and I am absolutely sure tht the views on this are many and diverse
as a some time owner of the odd hair of a horse and sometime punter the loss of kempton AW is no great disaster the all weather course is in my opinion by some way the worse of the current aw tracks in terms of the racing held there and numerically is amongst the worse supported by trainers and owners . moving on to the jumps track whilst it has some stellar racing there again numerically the support os average at best and to my mind Sandown is a vastly superior racecourse and better jumps track . I pose the question were the track not in the major southern conurbation that i forget the name of whether so many tears would be spilled .
And from what one sees on the tv and when visiting both the two men and their dogs who hold season tickets could find alternative amusement
as to a replacement AW track at HQ frankly it is absolutely ridiculous and totally unnecessary if one looks at the geographic spread of the other tracks it makes vastly more sense to look at placing any new track in the south west of the country or wales not another in the south east corner of the land and more importantly i fail to see a straight track on the AW at newmarket to be in anyway attractive from a racing or spectator point of view and if one is putting in a loop or bend then does this mean that grass racing will be altered to suit the needs of an AW track which would be a tragedy for Newmarket
if there is deemed a need for another aw track in the south Windsor would to my eye be reasonably attractive and could cater for those racegoers who currently support kempton far more easily than them having to ship out to Newmarket for their sport
In the end I would lose Kempton to restore financial stability but not bother replacing it for a few seasons until the sport truly sees whether it needs more/less AW racing and if it does then the overall needs of the sport not just the needs of JCR to have a presence in this genre of the sport have to be fully considered
And before all that is done the whole of the board who have overseen such a massive deficit should be sacked and never allowed another role (other than programme or hot dog seller) within the sport