Robin Oakley

The turf | 2 February 2017

Is the planned sale of Kempton Park for housing the Jockey Club’s idea of a sick joke?

Away from frosty Britain, lecturing my way across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, life has been dominated more by Donald Trump than by Dickie Johnson with passengers seeking refuge in jokes about the new president. ‘Why does Donald Trump keep marrying foreign women?’ ‘Because there are some jobs Americans just won’t do.’ ‘What can Melania possibly see in him?’ ‘Five billion dollars and high cholesterol’ and ‘How does Donald Trump hope to get six million Mexicans back home?’ ‘Juan by Juan.’ Well, it’s either humour or take to drink.

When I heard that the Jockey Club plans to sell off Kempton Park, home of the King George VI Steeplechase, for housing development I thought that, too, must be some kind of sick joke, but it isn’t. Now I am not going to launch into a diatribe against yet another section of a remote establishment, reaction against which has in part explained both the rise of Trumpism and Brexit. I won’t because since it ceded its powers to discipline racing in 1993, and handed day-to day control of the sport to professional managers in 2006, the Jockey Club has probably done more good to racing than ever it did at the height of its powers. To paraphrase American secretary of state Dean Acheson’s famous verdict on Britain, the Jockey Club lost its empire but has found a new role, based on land, intellectual property, media, music and catering. It churns out healthy profits on a £181 million annual turnover.

Thanks to Nicky Henderson’s father Johnny, a group that later became Racecourse Holdings Trust was formed in 1964 to save Cheltenham from urban sprawl. The Jockey Club played a major part, too, in rescuing Aintree from developers, and RHT eventually morphed into Jockey Club Racecourses, which now operates as a trust running 15 racecourses.

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