It’s good news for Sandown, but is it good news for Kempton?
The plans announced last week for a major development at Sandown Park, first reported on The Racing Hub, are good news for the Esher track. But those who have suggested that it may also bring about a reprieve for Kempton could be indulging in wishful thinking.
Whilst it’s gone a bit quiet on the Kempton Park front, that doesn’t mean the proposal to close the track and sell the land for housing has been kicked into the long grass. The planning process grinds on, albeit the site’s local authority, Spelthorne Borough Council, is opposing the application.
What’s been proposed at Sandown is, the track’s owner the Jockey Club has made clear, an entirely separate project. As such, it makes perfect sense. First, the grandstand costs more each year to maintain and a refurbishment is long overdue to get costs under control.
Second, the track has land which is not used to its full potential, so building new homes and a hotel can unlock a considerable of amount of money. So, whatever the future has in store for Kempton, it would be foolish for the Jockey Club not to pursue available opportunities at Esher.
Indeed, the Sandown plans include improvements to the track and my take is that if Kempton is to close, certain jumps fixtures have been earmarked for Sandown where it is acknowledged that the turf might struggle to cope with the extra races, so the improvements may well help in that respect.
The time is approaching for Kempton to come under the spotlight when the Christmas meeting takes place and the stands will be full to the rafters. But on other jump days attendance can be somewhat underwhelming.
At the last meeting it didn’t look as if there were many more than 500 racegoers, and after three races they’d seen only nine runners. That’s one less than the number of bookmakers in attendance. It was not the most persuasive evidence that racing should continue at the Sunbury course.
The Sandown plans also include a refurbishment of the grandstand. That’s a far better option than a brand new construction. A single building for both the grandstand and premiere enclosures, the current facility is more than fit for purpose for race watching, and it’s doubtful that it could be improved upon in this respect.
Busy month for TV racing
It’s been a busy month for the two specialist racing TV providers. First, Racing UK announced that they’d be changing their name to Racing TV given that from 2019 they’ll be covering Irish racing, having wrested the rights from At The Races. And At The Races will become Sky Sports Racing.
As well as announcing its new name, Racing TV gave details of how they are going to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. The addition of Irish racing was always going to be difficult to accommodate and the plan is that more racing will be shown online to fit everything in, and there will be a greater use of studio presentation for what’s transmitted via cable or dish for TV viewers.
That does seem like a step backwards, given how ITV have made such a success of presenting the sport free from the studio, albeit that they rarely cover more than two meetings at a time.
But an even bigger step backwards is that Irish racing followers will have to pay the monthly Racing TV subscription, and that could see a big drop in viewing numbers for the home audience. There is also the issue that not all providers of television in Ireland carry the channel which means some people wont have access unless agreement can be reached.
What is pleasing is that those previously covering Irish racing are making the move to Racing TV. Gary O’Brien will spearhead the Racing TV team in Ireland, where he will be joined by Kevin O’Ryan, Kate Harrington, Ruby Walsh and Donn McClean.
For Sky Sports Racing, trying to accommodate all its racing is less of a problem. Indeed, given the size of its presenting/pundit teams a bigger issue looks to be finding a venue to hold its Christmas party. The presenting team includes Matt Chapman, Mick Fitzgerald, Alex Hammond, Luke Harvey, Hayley Moore and Jason Weaver. The line-up of pundits will include Josh Apiafi, Kevin Blake, Jamie Lynch and Freddy Tylicki. Also be part of the Sky Sports Racing team are John Hunt, Mike Cattermole, Gina Bryce, Sean Boyce, Zoey Bird, Martin Kelly, Simon Mapletoft, Anthony Ennis, Darrell Williams, Robert Cooper, and John Blance.
Anyone expecting a major signing will be disappointed, especially as there was gossip that John Francombe could be enticed out of retirement. Where Sky Sports Racing has scored is the recruitment of Freddy Tylicki and, leaving Timeform, Kevin Blake.
Looking ahead, battle lines will be drawn as new recourse contracts come up for renewal. Ascot has already made the leap, along with Chester and Bangor, to the Sky camp, whilst Chelmsford is going in the opposite direction.
More switching is quite likely as the dosh is dangled, particularly by Sky who will now rate racing even higher given that they can still show bookmaker advertising during racing but, with the self-imposed “whistle-to-whistle” ban, not during other sports, thus depriving them of a sizeable chunk of revenue.
Meanwhile, it’s become apparent that ITV want to seek an early renewal of their contract to extend beyond 2020, to 2024. They too know the value of the bookmakers’ advertising spend. But they have also seen more than decent ratings achieved by racing and the numbers continue to grow. Not far short of one-million people watched the Ladbroke Trophy coverage.
In the sport’s best interests, coverage should stay with ITV.