So another Champions’ Day comes and goes but still the question marks remain, namely over the late October slot and the make-up of the card. Will the organisers ever get the ingredients right, you wonder?
Next year will see Future Champions’ Day and Champions’ Day run on consecutive days at two courses, with Newmarket hosting its fixture on a Friday and Ascot the following day. It would be fair to say this double-header has not received unanimous industry approval.
As regular readers of this magazine will know, Tony Morris was not exactly supportive of the original decision to move the Champion Stakes from Suffolk to Berkshire as the centrepiece for Britain’s richest-ever raceday – “daylight robbery”, as he calls it. Other ‘alterations’ to the race programme have not gone down well with our respected columnist, either.
For instance, he doesn’t much like the idea of running the Middle Park and the Dewhurst on the same day. “Whoever thought that was a bright idea needs to see a shrink,” he says in November’s magazine. Get off the fence, Tony!
There is little doubt that one course has come off second-best in the re-jigging that helped to create British Champions’ Day back in 2011. Ascot has the big day, the big stars and the big crowd; Newmarket has none of these. But is this all as bad for the sport as Tony believes?
Champions’ Day was intended as a celebratory finale to the Flat season, the culmination of the British Champions’ Series, designed to showcase the best races throughout the Flat season and help racing attract a wider audience.
Would such ambitions have been achievable with Newmarket as the final destination? Would the FA Cup Final work as well if it were played at Carrow Road? The answer, on both counts, is no.
Britain’s richest raceday needs Britain’s best racecourse, with the crowd-base, facilities, capacity and transport links to cater for an event of this magnitude. And that’s Ascot.
Despite Newmarket’s history and status as the headquarters of British racing, the simple fact is that not enough people go racing there. The town may be the centre of Britain’s thoroughbred population but its two racecourses lack popularity and profile when compared to Ascot. The Champion Stakes had to move south as part of the new order.
And let’s be clear about this – we do need to get more people interested in racing, betting on racing and attending race meetings. A generous sponsor, QIPCO, has come on board to give Champions’ Day every chance of success and, while more fine-tuning may be needed regarding the supporting races, we must support the event for the good of the sport.
When John Ferguson took out his training licence, it wasn’t Champions’ Day but Cheltenham he was dreaming of attending in his new guise.
As the man who buys horses for Sheikh Mohammed, Flat racing is an important part of his life – it provides the stage on which his purchases will be judged as successful, or not – yet it is the thrill of hurdling and chasing which now occupies much of Ferguson’s time.
In an exclusive interview with Alan Lee, Ferguson reveals how he manages the roles of bloodstock advisor, company chairman and trainer with such apparent ease.
“One of the best things Sheikh Mohammed has taught me is delegation,” he says. “I’m the Chairman of Falcon [the company that promotes Dubai] but I have a brilliant MD who runs it on a day-to-day basis.
“I will regularly fly out to Dubai on a Saturday night, work through Sunday and then catch the 2am flight back. I’m out with second lot – the staff hardly know I’ve been away.
“Training is my fun. I can pretend it’s a business but it’s not, although these things are fun only if they’re done well – we have always been ambitious.”