Ascot’s new Chief Executive Alastair Warwick, 51, began his career in the sport at Chester, before moving on to Aintree with Charles Barnett. He was then appointed Chief Executive at Hamilton, following on from Morag Gray, and enjoyed four years there before joining Ascot as Assistant Operations Director in 2008, under Barnett again. He became Chief Executive in March, having occupied the role in an acting capacity for around six months following the departure of Vivien Currie. He was one of the architects of World Pool betting, which is already providing Ascot with a significant revenue stream, and has played a key role in the renewal of the course’s contracts with ITV and Sky Sports Racing.
This year will be my 15th Royal Ascot and I’m hugely excited about it. We were delighted that His Majesty The King approved the renaming of the Platinum Jubilee Stakes to the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Stakes. Their Majesties have been in conversation with both Sir Francis Brooke, the King’s Representative here, and their Racing Manager, John Warren, with whom the King visited his trainers in Newmarket recently. It’s going to be an exciting week as we begin this new era.
I’m very focused on the visitor experience at the Royal Meeting, whatever your involvement. Whether you are an owner, trainer, breeder, punter, or you’ve just come to the Heath enclosure for a picnic on the Saturday, we must endeavour to deliver the world- class experience that an occasion like Royal Ascot demands. It’s a stunning event, and we must make sure it’s a stunning experience for all.
One of the joys of travelling to meetings like the Melbourne Cup and the Breeders’ Cup is the opportunities it has provided to attend other major sports events and see how they operate. There are so many things in the leisure sector that people can spend their money on and we are competing with all of them. It’s important to see what good looks like globally. Having been through Royal Ascot during the pandemic, when there were around 140 of us here and no spectators present to see some of the best horses in the world, nothing beats having a crowd shout home a winner at Royal Ascot. The crowd is at the heart of the celebration.
I love the international aspect of racing in the UK, particularly at Royal Ascot, and this year we are gearing up for a really strong team of challengers. On the back of Nature Strip’s amazing win last year, we’ve got four sprinters heading here from Australia in Coolangatta, The Astrologist, Artorius again and Cannonball. Also the American challenge won’t just be the remarkable Wesley Ward. The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel is expected along with George Weaver’s two juvenile winners from the first running of the recent automatic qualifier races at Gulfstream, No Nay Mets and Crimson Advocate. We are also hopeful that Wellington, one of the best sprinters in Hong Kong, will come. He would be the first to travel over since 2016 and it would be interesting to see what effect his presence has on World Pool betting.
We were fundamental in World Pool’s creation, and it’s a growing part of Ascot’s business. There are only a certain number of World Pool fixtures, so we are lucky that they include all five days of Royal Ascot, the King George, and Champions Day. It all originated over a cup of coffee on the steppings at Sha Tin with George Irvine, who at the time was director of co-mingling for the HKJC, and that led to conversations with Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, the HKJC’s Chief Executive, and the Tote.
World Pool is still in its infancy, but it’s already a global product in just its fifth year and I believe there is plenty of scope for further growth. This year it had its first race meeting from Australia, Lightning Stakes Day. The global market is where the growth is now, and it’s great for us to be so involved, and it’s great for British racing. It’s very complex though, as it requires us to work in partnership with many different countries. That is not only difficult on a technological front, but also in terms of the challenges presented by the varying betting rules which apply in different jurisdictions, such as each- way terms and the anomalies regarding withdrawn horses, non-runners and so on.
We can never compete with countries like Australia and Hong Kong on prize- money, as we are not a pool-betting monopoly and we are not a state-run operation. However, the quality of the racing we put on has never been an issue. Six of the top ten horses in the world on IFHA rankings last year ran at Ascot. We deliver some of the best and most competitive racing in the world and we have competitive prize-money by European standards, which will be at a record level once again this year.
We must look after each aspect of the sport, as it’s an ecosystem, and we are delighted to continue to recognise the importance of breeders. Every breeder of a Royal Ascot winner is invited to lunch on the Friday of the King George meeting and receives an engraved silver strawberry dish memento. It’s quite a big deal for many breeders to have a winner at Royal Ascot, and it’s essential that this element of the industry is celebrated. We are heavily involved with the BHA and TBA on the high-value developmental race scheme too, including our flagship £50,000 Crocker Bulteel Maiden.
I believe that the future for jump racing is bright and I’m looking forward to seeing the benefits of the changes to the fixture list following the recent review. We were involved in that review and are pleased to see that the BHA has taken some big steps in order to provide a more coherent programme aimed at increased field sizes. We gave up the Kennel Gate to assist with that. From our point of view, they’ve done what’s right. Jump racing is very important to us and the pre-Christmas meeting at Ascot is one of my annual highlights.