Sir Francis Brooke took over as Her Majesty’s Representative at Ascot immediately after the Royal Meeting of 2020. He is just the sixth person to hold the position, now as His Majesty’s Representative, which was created when the Ascot Authority Act was passed by Parliament in 1913. He follows the Duke of Norfolk, the Marquess of Abergavenny, Sir Piers Bengough, the Duke of Devonshire and Sir Johnny Weatherby in the role. He also succeeded Sir Johnny as Chairman of Ascot Authority (Holdings) Ltd in 2018, having been appointed a Trustee of the Ascot Authority in 2011. He grew up in Limerick in a family with a long association with racing and breeding, and he enjoyed a memorable success at Cheltenham in March as the joint owner of Ultima Chase winner Chianti Classico. Besides his responsibilities at Ascot, he is Vice Chairman of Troy Asset Management.

 

Interview by Graham Dench

 

My family on both sides have been involved in racing for generations and I was brought up in Ireland in and around the sport. My grandmothers had horses in training, my uncle had a stud, my great uncle Geoffrey Brooke was a trainer in Newmarket – at Clarehaven, where the Gosdens are now – and my great aunt was married to Atty Persse, to whom Geoffrey had been assistant. My mother latterly bred some very good jumping horses, including Mighty Moss, who was second to Istabraq in the SunAlliance Hurdle, Bannow Bay, who was second to Baracouda in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and Far From Trouble, who won a Galway Plate.

 

After we took over the farm in Limerick in 2015, my wife Katharine and I decided to start breeding ourselves and we now have six mares. Three of them are National Hunt, which is where we started, and now we have three Flat mares as well. We have bred three individual winners including a filly called Pita Pinta, trained by Fozzy Stack, who won three races and was Listed-placed. She’s now back on the farm with a colt foal by Saxon Warrior. We breed both to sell and to race and this year we have a two-year-old in training with Sir Mark Prescott. We aim to make it pay but breeding on our scale you need to get lucky once in a while, as it’s not very predictable.

 

The two horses I’ve had in partnerships trained by Kim Bailey have won 12 races; Chianti Classico in particular has been amazing. It was a great thrill when he won at Ascot last November and then to win the Ultima on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival was a bit of a dream. Me and Richard Pilkington, with whom I share ownership, were there with family and friends and it was an extraordinary day. I would have been delighted if Chianti Classico had simply been in contention at the third last, but he was pulling David Bass’s arms out! There are plenty of options looking ahead, including the Kerry National, although that might come too soon, the Coral Gold Cup, and of course those valuable handicaps at Ascot. One day he might run in the Grand National.

 

I’ve been Chairman of Ascot Authority (Holdings) Ltd since 2018 and became the last of Queen Elizabeth II’s Representatives after the lockdown Royal Ascot of 2020. It was a huge privilege to be appointed and since then I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be in the position for the Accession of King Charles, helping to see Ascot through the sadness of losing the Queen and then on through the transition to the King. It was clear from an early stage that the King and Queen would be very committed to Ascot and everyone was so pleased when they came on all five days last year. It was wonderful for Ascot, for British racing, and for the world of racing because the number of people around the world who view that association between Ascot and the Royal family as important is enormous.

 

Queen Elizabeth II was an absolute expert on all matters to do with thoroughbred racehorses. She had a huge passion for the sport, but Their Majesties are also clearly finding it very enjoyable to own racehorses. Racing is a sport which touches people around the world and the King enjoys that sort of interaction both at home and abroad. I think also that being closer to the breeding plans and the horses generally is giving him great pleasure. Desert Hero winning the King George V Handicap was a terrific moment and the King and Queen took huge pleasure from it. 

 

Queen Camilla had her own involvement in jumpers already and with her I helped create the Friends of Ebony Horse Club Syndicate. We leased horses on the Flat and over jumps with various trainers and won six races. We gave a lot of pleasure to some of Ebony’s young people by arranging racedays for them as well as stable visits and some work experience. It was a project born in lockdown and the whole idea was to bring the experience of racing to young people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity. It was great fun for the two years it was set up for and we might do it again one day.

 

We felt that it would be appropriate to have a race run at Ascot in the King’s name, and the King’s Stand Stakes will now be run as the King Charles III Stakes. It’s a very suitable race as it’s a Group 1 and attracts a lot of international interest from America and Australia. The King was very happy that we wished to name the race for him and I very much hope he will be there to present the trophy on the first day of the meeting. The Royal Drawing School is another great passion of his; for the first time this year there will be a stand in the Royal Enclosure where students will be drawing and exhibiting their work through the week.

 

Royal Ascot has changed enormously over the last 40 or 50 years while maintaining much of the tradition, and there have been incremental improvements year on year since the redevelopment. The traditions from the Royal Procession to the dress code are intrinsic to the event but we have modernised and innovated against that backdrop, nowhere more so than with the development of the race programme. It’s not for everyone but it holds its place in the global racing calendar as an event many people will want to attend at least once in their lives, if not every year. The most important thing is that everyone feels welcome, whichever enclosure they choose, and that’s what everyone at Ascot is committed to. We want people to go away at the end of the day feeling that they’ve seen the best racing in the world and really enjoyed themselves.