The announcement by Jockey Club Racecourses that it intends selling Kempton Park for redevelopment in a few years – which was touched upon in the last edition of this blog, shortly after the news broke – has continued to provoke much discussion, far from all of it well-informed.
Some journalists who cover the sport suddenly appear to have become experts on the more esoteric details of fine art, wildlife conservation and the financial dealings of multi-million-pound enterprises, while at the same time demonstrating an ignorance of the sport they profess to love.
In particular, the oft-repeated claim that all-weather racing is unrelenting “dross” simply does not withstand scrutiny. I tackled this in a blog for Timeform in 2014 and since then all-weather has got stronger still.
For instance: the average Timeform ratings of AW winners has increased by 1.5 lb in the intervening years, while turf has stood still; Kempton has advanced three places in that table and Lingfield Park’s all-weather has jumped a remarkable nine places; Chelmsford City, which did not exist back in 2013, can claim more winners rated over 90 in 2016 than any course other than Newmarket’s Rowley Mile.
It is only to be expected – and is reassuring in some respects – that emotions will run high when there are threats to horseracing’s heritage, but is it too much to ask that the debate be grounded in facts and in a realistic acknowledgement of the debaters’ own limitations?
As it happens, Kempton was the scene of a performance of rare merit last Wednesday, the day after the public disclosure about the course’s future.
The Godolphin-owned Pretend, winner of the AW Sprint Final in 2015, scorched to victory in the 32Red Conditions Stakes by one and a half lengths and the same from Gentlemen and Spring Loaded. It was not his overall time which caught the eye, but his time from halfway in a race which was steadily-run to begin with.
Unfortunately, there are no TPD sectionals at Kempton, but Timeform’s own figures have Pretend running the final 3f in about 33.35s, which is the quickest by any horse, at any distance, at the track in nearly three years.
It is no surprise that Pretend has been made favourite for the Betway Sprint on AW Finals’ Day at Lingfield on Good Friday. He was a class act a couple of years ago, and it very much seems like he still is.
We also do not have TPD sectionals for the Fast-Track Qualifier won by Doc Sportello at Newcastle on Thursday, but overall time analysis suggests the Betway Conditions Stakes was a true affair, with Timeform coming up with a very healthy 109 timefigure for the winner and for short-head runner-up Justice Good.
The preceding sunbets.co.uk Handicap was anything but a true contest, with a sprint over the last couple of furlongs. In that context, Flaming Spear did astonishingly well to come from last to first late on with an uphill final furlong of 12.0s or slightly under judged by ATR’s on-screen clock.
Elementary had gone into the notebook here after his fast-finishing fourth at Lingfield over Christmas, and returned to the course to break his maiden on Friday.
It will be interesting to see what the TPD sectionals reveal about the action at the same course on Saturday. The maiden won by Blaze of Glory was the fastest of four races run at a mile, when it might have been expected to be the slowest.
You wait for what seems like ages for a Fast Track Qualifier, and then two come along at once! Wolverhampton stages a qualifier for the Betway Marathon on Monday, while Kempton Park puts up the third of four FTQs in the 32Red 3-Year-Old series on Tuesday.
The former race – the Betway Conditions Stakes, due off at 4:00 – has a really interesting shape to it, in that there are the “dead-eight” runners, which makes for appealing each-way betting, and yet five of them have been off the course for two months or more.
Antiquarium and Famous Kid have the best form but have not been seen in months and may not be ideally suited by the combination of trip, surface and smallish field. STEVE ROGERS and Gang Warfare – third and seventh in a similar contest at Newcastle just before Christmas – look to be more solid propositions, with the former favoured in a race in which he could get things his way close up.
There are some promising types in the Smarter Bets With Matchbook Betting Exchange Stakes at Kempton Park at 3:40 the following day, but the two with the best form are undoubtedly SUTTER COUNTY and Tomily.
The former disappointed slightly last time at Wolverhampton, but that was at 5f round a bend, and the sectionals underline just how quickly he was finishing that day. Back at 6f, he should have too many guns for a rival who has not run on AW since his debut.