THE ‘sold out’ signs are already firmly in place outside Ascot Racecourse ahead of tomorrow’s Qipco British Champions Day, as 32,000 horseracing fans prepare to descend on Berkshire to get one last glimpse of Frankel before he takes up stud duties.
It is difficult to evaluate the true Frankel factor but a capped growth just shy of 25 per cent on last year’s attendance is testament to how an equine freak on the verge of making it 14 wins from 14 career starts has captured the public’s imagination.
Yet, as racing prepares itself for life without its star, one leading figure is unconcerned about the situation. “Frankel has helped our sport head news bulletins and go beyond the racing pages”, Simon Bazalgette, chief executive of The Jockey Club, racing’s largest commercial group, told City A.M. “He’ll be talked about for years to come, but fortunately we’re a sport where when one star retires, others tend to burst on the scene.”
British racing certainly does seem to be on the up having welcomed a record 6.15m people through its gates last season, making it the second most attended national sport behind football. Despite the economic climate, it has attracted the long-term support of global brands such as Investec and Qatari firm QIPCO, as well as Jaguar and Goldsmiths.
Therefore, the BBC’s apparent decision to step away from a sport it has had such a loyal association with for more than 50 years surprised many. After a bidding process earlier this year, Channel 4 was awarded British racing’s terrestrial TV rights for an exclusive four-year period. Bazalgette, however, is quick to point out that it was racing that chose Channel 4 rather than the other way around.
“Sometimes I hear it suggested that the BBC pulled out of racing”, he adds. “Far from it, despite budget cuts, the BBC offered to pay more to keep their existing rights. But they found themselves outbid, financially and in terms of how far Channel 4 is proposing to go to in promoting our sport across multiple platforms and in new, engaging ways, all year round.”
So, the BBC’s loss will almost certainly be Channel 4’s gain and Bazalgette is confident racing has backed the right horse. “If you want to make big progress you have to make bold choices and that’s what we’ve done.”