The recent announcement by the Jockey Club that it is looking at selling Kempton Park, one of its flagship courses, has sent shockwaves through the racing industry but, should it come off, resurgent Warwick could be well-placed to benefit, writes David Hucker.
When Flat racing came to an end in 2014 after 300 years at the course, the Jockey Club set out its stall to turn Warwick into one of the best small jumps courses in the country.
Works to realign the old Flat track were carried out last summer to give an improved racing surface, along with widening fences in the back straight, enabling fresh ground to be used in the worst of the winter months.
Racegoers have responded with the course enjoying increased attendances and higher corporate hospitality sales adding up to a 28 per cent growth in crowd numbers from 2015 to 2016, the best in the country. The inaugural May Racing Carnival, which was recognised by the Racecourse Association (RCA) with a Showcase Award nomination, saw 10,824 through the gates across the three fixtures during May - an increase of 2,489, despite poor weather on each of the days.
The figures surrounding the Kempton sale remain unclear but, in announcing the plan, the Jockey Club said that receipts would underpin an investment at least £0.5bn in British racing through a nationwide programme designed to benefit horsemen and racegoers across all of the group’s courses and training grounds around the country.
In addition, the fixtures currently run at Kempton would, subject to approval by the British Horseracing Authority, be allocated to its other courses.
While the prestigious Boxing Day meeting featuring the King George VI Chase and selected other fixtures would transfer to nearby Sandown Park, there will be others to be reallocated around the country and, with Warwick very much on the up and having potential to add to its current 17 meeting programme, it will be a strong candidate to pitch for more.
Reflecting on the course’s success, general manager Andre Klein said: “We’re absolutely delighted figures from the Racecourse Association (RCA) have confirmed that Warwick Racecourse produced the biggest like for like attendance increase in the country.
“Warwick has a young and enthusiastic team of staff, totally motivated by the belief our racecourse can be something very special indeed. We believe we are on the right track, and the team won’t stop thinking about ways to improve the wonderful asset we have at our disposal until we are sure we have done all we can to achieve our aim.”
Among projects already in the pipeline are the construction of a new public turnstile building off Bread and Meat Close and the redevelopment of an unused tote window space into a new hospitality bar area close to the parade ring.
The next meeting at Warwick is the Gentlemen’s and Kingmaker Chase Day on Saturday February 11.