Premier racing festival still pulling the punters despite recessionary hurdles
Ian Renton, regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses, says Cheltenham is a "very significant" part of the club's business, although he won't be drawn on just how significant. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Fewer Irish are travelling to Cheltenham these days, but they remain hugely important to the festival
As the build-up to this year’s Cheltenham festival stepped up a gear last week, it emerged that Irish horses hold almost 600 of the record 2,075 entries for the annual national hunt racing showdown in the Cotswolds.
Of course, many of them will, even at this late stage, have two or three options, but the overall number of entries shows that the meeting, which kicks off next Tuesday, just seems to get bigger and bigger.
Ian Renton is looking forward to Tuesday, although as Jockey Club Racecourses regional director, who has responsibility for Cheltenham, along with Exeter, Warwick and Wincanton, he must be viewing it with some trepidation.
Renton began his near 30-year career in racecourse management at Cheltenham, but most recently ran the Reuben Brothers-owned Arena Leisure, which owns a number of tracks in the midlands and north of England.
His latest move gives him charge of not just its biggest festival, but one of the more commercially important events in British racing.
Jockey Club Racecourses is responsible for 14 courses in all, which it either owns or leases. As racing portfolios go, Renton agrees that it is world class. Along with Cheltenham, it has Aintree, Epsom and Newmarket, British flat racing’s headquarters.
It means the company hosts many of British racing’s marquee events – the Cheltenham and Grand National festivals in the jumping arena and on the flat, four of the five classics: the Derby and Oaks at Epsom and 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
In 2011, the last year for which accounts are available – it is a private company and is thus not subject to the same reporting requirements as a plc – it had sales of £129.5 million, slightly ahead of the £128.1 million it recorded the previous year. This translated into an operating profit of £4.1 million, a 25 per cent jump on 2010 and a pre-tax surplus of £700,000.
The group’s owner is the Jockey Club, which itself is ultimately a trust. Profits are ploughed back into the racecourses themselves. It also gets about 25 per cent of the income generated by a levy scheme on British bookmakers, which is administered by a public body, the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB), and distributed to tracks.
The current scheme, which ends this month, is likely to yield £72.4 million. The board estimates that the next scheme, which begins in April and closes on March 31s next year, will generate £72.9 million.