What a difference a month makes for Kempton Park. One of Britain’s most recognisable racecourses underwent a rollercoaster ride as the calendar turned from 2016 into a new year now filled with uncertainty for the Sunbury venue. The old year ended with echoes of Thistlecrack’s stunning King George VI Chase success lingering magnificently for fans of jumps racing, Colin Tizzard’s charge now seemingly set fair for a major assault on the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a result.
Then came the remarkable announcement from the Jockey Club that Kempton Park is potentially being earmarked for a massive redevelopment, as racing’s powerbrokers seek to cash in on this prime real estate on the edge of London. Quite the turnaround for those that hold Kempton close to their hearts and, should it go ahead, a sea-change in how the midwinter jumps highlight will be perceived going forward and surely a big change in how it reflects toward Cheltenham in the spring.
Thistlecrack’s awesome Kempton display means he is now the raging hot favourite for Cheltenham in March. You can click here to place your bet on the Gold Cup 2017, but what exactly would the demise of Kempton mean for the festival’s Blue Ribband contest in the future?
Kempton is currently the polar opposite to Cheltenham. Flat, right-handed and speedy; it offers a vastly different challenge to that of Prestbury Park in March. Its beauty is that its differing challenge offers the perfect preparation for Cheltenham, where the undulations and turns as well as the daunting uphill finish over three-miles-and-two-furlongs in the Gold Cup provide an acid test of the best sbest-stayingrs in the land. Getting three miles at speed around Kempton gives a huge clue in terms of stamina for any horse but, by the same token, the King George does not necessarily dig as deep into the reserves as a Gold Cup ultimately will.
The likes of Kicking King, Kauto Star and Long Run have shown in recent times that Kempton at Christmas, usually on forgiving ground, can be the perfect precursor for the ultimate test in March. The alternative should Kempton be demolished is a King George VI Chase run at Sandown Park instead. The prospect of the famous Railway fences being jumped is an exciting one but it is greatly tempered by what would likely be deep, deep underfoot conditions at the other great jumping venue on London’s doorstep.
In its current guise, Sandown would surely leave a deep impression on any horse winning a King George – lest they can win it in little more than third gear, ala Thistlecrack of course. A bruising Boxing Day encounter would potentially compromise the hopes of winning the biggest race of all come Cheltenham in March. Horses like Denman, Coneygree and Don Cossack have found success in the Cotswolds leaving an indelible mark on their physical well-being afterwards – such is the depth of endeavour required to win a Gold Cup. It would greatly harm the King George’s future wellbeing if the best in the business were suddenly to be concerned that the race would leave a lasting impact on their stars.
As things stand, Kempton and Cheltenham are exceptionally good bedfellows, standing tall as the two archetypal tests for a staying chaser in the season. Winning both races is the ultimate in prestige and is deemed a fair challenge by all. Future plans for Kempton Park could greatly alter the landscape, in many more ways than is immediately obvious.