New all-weather tracks are to be built at Newmarket (pictured)and Kempton and will be operational in 2005. The plan to expand racing at both courses is part of a £14m scheme announced by the Racecourse Holdings Trust (RHT), the Jockey Club subsidiary that owns both courses.
Kempton will have a right-handed 10-furlong oval, which will feature evening racing under floodlights. The all-weather fixtures will replace turf flat racing at the Sunbury course.
National Hunt sport will continue on grass at the course, to the relief of jumping enthusiasts. Part of Kempton’s original proposal for all-weather racing had threatened jumping and its mid-season highlight, the King George V1 Chase on Boxing Day.
While winter racing enthusiasts will embrace the new plan, there will be criticism that Kempton, a right-handed course, has built a sand track the opposite way round to all the big courses around the world.
It will not be a suitable trial track for America’s Breeders’ Cup or the Dubai World Cup, which are run left-handed.
Newmarket, the headquarters of flat racing, is sure to stimulate much debate with its mile-and-a-half all-weather, running parallel to the Rowley Mile turf course. The plan is to stage two or three all-weather fixtures a week between November and April, thus, not affecting the flat programme.
Much of Newmarket Heath is designated as a site of Special Scientific Interest, but not the proposed all-weather strip.
RHT’s decision to thrust into the all-weather market is in response to changes expected under the recommendations of the Office of Fair Trading – with racecourses negotiating directly with bookmakers and media companies for all-year-round racing.
The British Horseracing Board is expected to give the green light to three more all-weather courses at Newbury, Sedgefield and the newcomer, Great Leighs, near Chelmsford in Essex next week.