Recent reports that there are plans to close Kempton Park and sell it for redevelopment in a few years’ time remind us that nothing is permanent in this sport, or in life itself.
For those who are fond of the Sunbury course – myself included (it was the first track I attended and was my local for a while many years later) – it will be a sad day if this happens.
But closures, and sometimes openings, are part and parcel of an evolving sport and a consequence of the pressures that exist for those who own its assets.
Chris Pitt’s book “A Long Time Gone” reveals that 48 courses closed for good in the first two decades of the last century, while another 20 disappeared in the 1930s, mostly on account of the Second World War.
But not one closed between 1981 (Stockton) and 2012 (Hereford, which has since reopened, and Folkestone) despite financial crashes and much-increased competition from other forms of entertainment.
If anything, it is a surprise that this sort of thing has not happened more often.
We may have but a few years left with Kempton, so – as with an ailing elderly relative – let us enjoy it while it is still around. In the meantime, there is talk of a replacement all-weather track at Newmarket and a turf course to go with the existing all-weather set-up at Chelmsford City.
Chelmsford was the scene of the return last week of one of all-weather racing’s most popular horses, Lancelot du Lac, runner-up to Alben Star in the Sprint on Finals’ Day at Lingfield Park in 2016.
Judged on the seven-year-old’s emphatic defeat of Doctor Sardonicus, he is just about as good as he has ever been after a six-month break. Timeform had him running to 115 – easily the best by any Flat horse in Britain and Ireland so far this year – as against a career-best of 118. The latter also happens to be the average rating achieved by a Sprint winner on Finals’ Day.
At a slightly lesser level, Coillte Cailin continued her march up the handicap with a ready win at Lingfield, where her potent turn of foot was seen to devastating effect at the end of a slowly-run race.
Check out her TPD sectionals on the race result, including a rarely-seen 11.0s for the penultimate furlong.
Those looking for a couple of sectional eye-catchers with which to replace Coillte Cailin could do worse than check out IN THE SPOTLIGHT ATR Tracker, who rattled home in a fast-time race at Wolverhampton on 5th January, and SECRET GLANCE ATR Tracker, who was well-backed but did just a bit too much too soon when third to Essenaitch at Southwell on the same day.
An earlier ATR Sectional Spotlight highlighted that the way races were tending to be run at Newcastle’s All-Weather course was varying significantly from one time period to the next, presumably as jockeys struggled to adapt to the new track and how it should be ridden.
That was back in early-December, and the evidence is that things have settled down since.
The median race finishing speed % at Newcastle since TPD data became available late in October is 98.2, which is lower than for any other AW course bar Southwell (97.8%). The combination of the surface and the slightly uphill finish at Newcastle makes for a decent test of stamina.
Where fast-early/slow-late prevailed in early-November, and slow-early/fast-late took over later that month, the figures since have been almost bang on what you would expect. Some races have been too slow, and a few have been too fast, but overall riders have adjusted well.
There is racing at the Gosforth Park course on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, with the latter featuring a Fast Track Qualifier at 5f in the Betway Conditions Stakes.
Among the nine declared runners are Lightscameraction, who won on Finals’ Day itself in 2015, and the Irish mare Chiclet, though they and the others have something to find on recent form with Gracious John.
The David Evans-trained four-year-old is the likeliest winner, but if there is a chink in his armour it is that races up with the pace and that this contest looks likely to be a cut-throat affair: Mythmaker, Chiclet and Bowson Fred are three others who take no prisoners in the early stages.
While Gracious John looks worth support, it also looks worth taking a chance at the likely odds with ROYAL BIRTH, who is very well suited by pouncing late in strongly-run contests and who has a decent record when returning from a break, as is the case here.
Over at Chelmsford a couple of hours later GENERAL HAZARD goes again under what look suitable conditions having been flagged up as a sectional eye-catcher in this column last time.