The Cheltenham Gold Cup’s sparkling new sponsor
Mike Deasy on the Cheltenham Gold Cup’s sparkling new sponsor, Shishkin turns on the after-burner, racing’s clash with rugby, Ascot’s new annual members facility disappoints, and more train trouble for racegoers
After a year without a sponsor, the Cheltenham Gold Cup has a sparkling new backer – the luxury jewellery brand Boodles.
The firm, founded in Liverpool in 1798, already sponsors Chester’s May Festival meeting, and Jockey Club Racecourses can be pleased they’ve attracted such a prestigious brand to the centre-piece of the 2022 Festival.
Cider maker Magniers pulled out of their deal with the racecourse which has led to court proceedings. The Jockey Club are suing for breach of contract whilst Magniers are counter-suing in regard to how the Festival was staged in 2019 with the onset of the Covid pandemic.
Last year, with no commercial backing, the charity WellChild benefited from naming rights to the Gold Cup.
There were suggestions that, unsurprisingly, finding a new sponsor was proving difficult in an environment where racing was receiving negative headlines, including the picture of Gordon Elliott sitting astride a dead racehorse, bullying, drug abuse, and the juxtaposition of the Festival taking place as Covid was taking hold.
There’s also been the economic impact of Covid with businesses tightening their marketing spend.
In such circumstances, it’s unlikely the Boodles deal will yield as much revenue as previous sponsorship agreements, but it takes away the embarrassment of one of Britain’s biggest sporting contests going ahead without commercial support.
So, signing-up Boodles is a feather in the cap for the Jockey Club. Or, should that be a tiara?
If you lose a sponsor at short notice, as was the case with Magnier, it’s far from easy to find a replacement, especially as the kind of money involved is not inconsiderable, and there’s little time to cement a new sponsor’s brand in the run-up to the race. And few races have such a long run-up as the Gold Cup.
But landing Boodles as sponsor will be a satisfactory outcome for Cheltenham, as the association with the jewellery brand and its long heritage adds commercial kudos to jump racing’s most important race.
What’s now hoped is that the sponsorship is not a one-off.
Whilst Boodles are not new to racing – as well as their Chester sponsorship they have been backing the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, and will continue to do so – their expanded sponsorship portfolio is a vote of confidence for the sport.
Online car dealer Cazoo became sponsors of the Derby, Oaks and St Leger and their brand contrast with Boodles demonstrates a good spread of the old and the new in backing the turf.
Hopefully it makes things a little easier to attract more high-profile companies to get involved with racing.
Shishkin turns on the after-burner
There are three races, seen live, I shall never forget. The Grundy/Bustino “Race of the Century” at Ascot, Shergar scorching home in the Derby at Epsom, and Frankel similarly blazing a trail in the 2000 Guineas. Each race leaving a tingling feeling of amazement and exhilaration.
Now there’s a fourth. It was much hyped, but Shishkin v Energumene at Ascot more than lived up to expectation.
It was an absorbing race in running, with first-class rides from both jockeys; Paul Townend glided along in front on the Irish raider Energumene, with Nico de Boinville a little more energetic to keep Shishkin within striking distance.
There were times when it looked as if the Willie Mullins-trained front-runner had put too much distance between himself and Shishkin and the gap increased to a shade under two lengths as the pair headed to the last.
The final fence safely negotiated, one of the two leading protagonists was going to have to lose his unbeaten tag. And it still seemed that Energumene was going to last out.
But Shishkin put on the after-burner. Having used much fuel to track the long-time leader he swept past in the final yards. His unbeaten record remained intact.
The Ascot crowd had been roaring home the two from the moment they headed into the straight. They too found something extra in order to raise the roof as the two combatants crossed the line. And the cheers and the applause were for the both of them.
Energumene was the first back into the winner’s enclosure and the applause struck up. Shortly after, Shishkin came home to receive a rapturous, Cheltenham-style reception, with de Boinville (pictured) arms aloft in acknowledgment of the crowd’s approbation and his of the horse he was riding.
And, all being well, the beauty is we shall see them lock horns again in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Lucky old sponsors and lucky old us.
Racing’s clash with rugby
Rugby union’s Gallagher Premiership is celebrating the news that ITV is to show a package of live games and a Sunday night weekly highlights programme.
If the sport gets as good a coverage as racing receives, they should be well pleased.
One of the games ITV will show live is the Premiership final on Saturday 18 June at Twickenham. If that’s a date which rings a bell – it’s also the final day of Royal Ascot, which will be on the main channel, with the rugby on ITV4.
And it should also be fun on the trains packed with racegoers and rugby spectators as Ascot and Twickenham share the same route from London Waterloo.
Ascot unveils its annual members cattle pen
These scribblings were highly critical of Ascot’s new annual members package for 2022, when it doubled the cost of membership at over £800, with barely a difference in the facilities on offer. See http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-7Px
Now those who have stumped-up the money have seen what they’re getting.
Whilst there’s good race viewing, the exclusive area on the fourth level is not as comfortable as annual members have been used to – a sizeable lounge – but a cordened-off area of the premier enclosure.
The fourth level of Ascot’s lofty stand has always been a busy on the track’s big days but the annual members’ coterie resembled a cattle pen.
And, of course, the sectioned-off area was at the expense of other racegoers who found space they could once have occupied, viewing they could have once enjoyed and a bar they could once have used no longer available to them.
Hopefully Ascot have longer-term plans for enhanced annual member facilities but maybe they shouldn’t have hiked the cost for something which, er, didn’t even match what was on offer for half the price.
More train trouble for racegoers
Another major day’s racing is being hit by railway engineering works, with no through trains from London Paddington to Cheltenham for this Saturday’s Rehearsal Meeting.
With limited services available to make it to Cheltenham before the off (now even earlier with new start time of 12.15) a journey which normally takes two hours will be extended by an hour due to a rail-replacement bus from Reading to Swindon.
Imagine the misery of the journey home if you’ve done your bits.