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Trainer Mark Johnston on the proposal to close Kempton Park

Mark Johnston on the proposal to close Kempton Park

Middleham trainer Mark Johnston can be relied upon to stir the odd hornets nest when it comes to how the sport of racing is administered and even how it is covered on terrestrial television. It seems clear to me, writes Vernon Grant, that ITV Racing took note of his belief that there was too much emphasis on betting when Channel 4 had the contract to broadcast the sport. ITV would no doubt claim it is a coincidence that they are concentrating far less on the punting side of racing (and punters have turned off as a consequence).

Now Mark Johnston speaks out, at last, on the ludicrous proposal to close Kempton Park racecourse. A proposal driven by the need to build more and more homes on the green belt. Once Theresa May has won her increased majority at the June 8th General Eelection, the self destructive obsession to cover the UK in flats and houses that all look alike will move into top gear. The homes will not house the homeless and those in desperate need of social housing. They’ll be bought by buy-to-let landlords and overseas money launderers. They’ll be fewer people living in any homes built where a racecourse used to be than there are people watching racing at Kempton Park on a wet Tuesday in winter.

The photograph above shows a packed Kempton on a typical Boxing Day of great jumps racing. The photograph below was taken on a more typical day of all weather dross. In my opinion, stated at the time, Kempton was in trouble from the day they decided to turn it into an all weather track for flat racing. Subsequent events have only confirmed that belief.

kempton park empty

Build it and they will come. But not for all weather racing

That’s my brief view. I could go on but, you’ll be relieved to read, I shall not

Here instead is the opinion of a man who sees much more all weather racing than I do. He has to. I don’t!

Mark Johnston writes:-

“I have been uncharacteristically quiet on Kempton despite a constant barrage from the media, owners and trainers who think I should become involved in the argument (why me?). My answer all along has been that, as far as I am concerned, it makes no difference whether an AW track is at Kempton, Chelmsford or Newmarket. Let’s face it, they are all pretty much the same and, whatever variation there is between them, it is not enough to make the racing particularly interesting.

“Of course, if the horses are good enough, it really doesn’t matter where you run racing or on what surface. Great racing is great to watch on any surface, but moderate racing is particularly boring on a bland all-weather track and you can rest assured that, if it is run on the AW in the UK, the surroundings are not going to add anything to the spectacle.

“Our racing is unique for its heritage and its diversity and, if I were a jumps trainer, I would be very upset about losing Kempton just as, as a flat trainer, I was very upset about losing Newcastle’s turf track.

“To most of us, these decisions to eat into the heritage of British racing are all about greed and an insular, opportunistic, desire to make a quick buck.”

Mark Johnston criticises plan to stage jumps racing at Chester

Mark Johnston speaks out. Photo by Vernon Grant

The Yorkshire based trainer adds:-

“The jump trainers are right to be upset and I offer them my wholehearted support, but don’t expect me to claim that it is going to impact on my business. It isn’t.

“I did, however, think it was a bit ironic that Jockey Club Racecourses should claim a need for an AW course in Newmarket as driving their decision to close Kempton.

“If Newmarket is so desperate for more opportunities to run on the AW close to home, how come the leading trainer at Chelmsford based on number of winners is a certain Mark Johnston, from Middleham, and the trainer with the most runners is Michael Appleby from Oakham in Rutland? For us, Newmarket would be more convenient than Kempton but Wetherby would be more convenient still and, for some unknown reason, they aren’t building an AW track there.”

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