The unexpected news that Kempton Park Racecourse is set to close in the near future has caused plenty of uproar and frustration this week. With the huge heritage that Kempton holds with the likes of Arkle, Desert Orchid and more recently Kauto Star providing some scintillating moments, it’s not surprising that many racing fans are against the idea. Some big names in racing are certain to protest in a bid to change the Jockey Club’s decision but in my opinion, it’s likely to be a false hope.
At first I was against the idea but having read up the facts regarding the decision, I can see why the Jockey Club are doing it. Reportedly being £115m in debt, they obviously need to raise capital from somewhere in order to continue investing in and improving their racecourses. This is a decision that clearly hasn’t been made overnight and with an investment plan of £500m, we have to believe this decision will be a positive one in the long run.
Anyway, this is a discussion that will be at the forefront for some time yet and the plan is not scheduled to happen until 2021 at the earliest so let’s enjoy the racing at Kempton while we still can and they stage some good racing this weekend.
The 32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle is the feature race at Kempton on Saturday and last year’s winning trainer Venetia Williams has another fancied runner with Bennys King this time round who sneaks in at the bottom of the weights off 10st1lb. He finally got his head in front after a string of seconds with a win over 2m4f at Uttoxeter on his latest start beating the Anthony Honeyball trained Pure Vision who had bolted up at Lingfield on his previous start. A 6lb rise for that win means more is required now upped in class but this six year old looks progressive and this trip will be ideal for him.
Doesyourdogbite opened up joint favourite in the betting on Thursday with Bennys King but was quickly shortened to 5-1 clear favourite. He was a ready winner on just his third start over Hurdles in a similarly competitive race over course & distance on Boxing Day. With the likelihood of more progress to come, he looks capable of remaining competitive despite a 6lb higher mark.
The best backed horse of the race so far is Jaleo who has already halved in price with some firms. I thought he did well to win last time in a race that wasn’t run to suit. That was over 2m3f and the extra two furlongs is likely to suit judging by the way he stayed on. Although that wasn’t the most competitive race, it was his seasonal debut and he went off favourite for the Fred Winter at the Festival where a bad mistake four out ended his chance. Useful amateur Alex Ferguson gets the leg up and takes a handy 7lb off.
Also well supported is Lord of the Island who was last seen falling when in with a chance at Exeter. Prior to that, he was a respectable third off a revised mark at the same track. He’s still relatively lightly raced for a nine year old with just nine runs to date. The trip and ground will be ideal for him although he will need to step up again to defy his current mark upped in class.
The J P McManus owned Modus finished seventh in the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last time but had previously been runner up in two high class handicaps. He received a 5lb rise for his second in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and now looks on a high enough mark based on his run last time. The going is currently good to soft so I’m sure connections will be hoping for the forecast snow to stay away as Nicholls has stated in a recent Betfair column that good ground suits him best.
Chesterfield is an interesting runner who ran a respectable race off the back of a two year absence when he finished a place behind Modus in the Wessex Youth Trust Hurdle. Back in 2014 he posted some smart form, most notably when winning a competitive race at the Cheltenham open meeting. If he can avoid the dreaded bounce factor and build on his comeback run then I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up a bold show over this longer trip.
New recruit to the Dan Skelton team is Sam Red who was last seen finishing fourth over fences at Killarney. It looks as though he may have had a few problems along the way judging by the time he’s had off in between runs and doesn’t look that well handicapped based on his form so far. It’s interesting that the Skelton team have chosen to target a race like this on his seasonal debut though.
Champion Jockey Richard Johnson takes the mount on Kalondra, a horse that remained consistent in novice races and since switching to handicaps this season. Patiently ridden to win a conditional jockeys race at Ascot last time, the likelihood of a strong pace looks sure to suit him. An 8lb rise for that win looks harsh though and will need to progress again to be competitive today.
Fountains Windfall was an impressive winner of a weak Maiden Hurdle at Fontwell last time and had previously been runner-up to a 133 rated rival. His current mark of 130 looks fair based on the form he’s shown so far and top conditional David Noonan claims a handy 3lb. The longer trip should suit and there should be plenty more to come from this lightly raced seven year old on his handicap debut.
Sent off a well backed favourite for a strong handicap at Cheltenham last time, Templeross was ultimately disappointing. He had previously been running consistently, winning two of his three runs in novice races. Needs to put his last run behind him and a mark of 126 looks high enough judging by the form he showed in those novice races.
I thought Will O’The West should have won his seasonal debut when third at Cheltenham in October, kicking on for home soon enough and drifting left up the run in only to be headed close home. Disappointed at the same venue last time but the ground would have been plenty soft enough for him that day so can be forgiven that run. A mark of 130 looks fair despite being 5lb higher than his third at Cheltenham, the trip and ground should suit (providing the ground doesn’t race on the slow side) and he looks over priced at 25-1.
The Ben Pauling trained Jaleo looks to be the stables main hope but he also runs Local Show who was last seen running in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he was pulled up having never jumped with any fluency. Clearly held in high regard, he now reverts back to Hurdles off a 5lb lower mark. Another who is relatively lightly raced for his age, he still remains with potential and it looks as if connections are using this race as a confidence booster having made those errors over fences last time.
Little Boy Boru will be having his third run in this race, previously finishing second and fifth in 2015/2016. Ran a promising race on his seasonal debut behind Splash of Ginge at Haydock last time. This race is likely to have been the target for some time but hasn’t won for over two years and is 6lb wrong.
The other Paul Nicholls trained runner is Old Guard who is the class horse in the race with a mark of 153 and won the Greatwood and International Hurdle at Cheltenham last season. Had been sent chasing at the start of this season and won a Beginners Chase at Exeter, although struggled to beat a 130 rated horse that day. Has now reverted back to hurdles and improved by 20lb during last season but it will require a big performance if he is to win this race off top weight and hasn’t looked in the same form this time round. The step up in trip is also a big question mark.
Verdict: Plenty you can make a case for but a chance is taken with Will O’The West who needs to put a disappointing run at Cheltenham last time behind him but there’s every reason to believe he can do and is of strong interest based on his third the time before. Bennys King is progressing well and looks the main danger despite a 6lb rise in the handicap for his win last time. Fountains Windfall should still have more to come and looks potentially a well handicapped horse off 130 despite this being his seasonal debut.
1) Will O’The West 2)Bennys King 3)Fountains Windfall