Ryanair to sponsor World Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival
Ladbrokes are shut out of sponsoring race after failing to agree funding deal
Gavin Sheehan celebrates winning The Ladbrokes World Hurdle on Cold Harden at last year’s Cheltenham festival. Photograph: Inpho/Dan Sheridan
The news amounts to a hardening of positions in the row about what share of their profits bookmakers should be paying to racing, as it is Ladbrokes’ failure to agree a funding deal with the sport’s ruling body that has led to their being ousted from Cheltenham.
Under the Authorised Betting Partner (ABP) scheme, introduced by racing in November, only those bookmakers who have come to terms with the sport will be allowed to ink new sponsorship deals with many of the main tracks, including Cheltenham.
It had been thought that Ladbrokes’ desire to continue their high-profile association with the festival might be the catalyst for an agreement. Now that chance has gone, it is hard to imagine circumstances in which that firm can become an ABP; if their senior executives were at all minded to sign up, they would have done so in time to save their position at Cheltenham.
New firm needed
“It struck us as at least peculiar that our money and expertise were welcome in one part of the racecourse and not in another,” said Ladbrokes’ spokesman, David Williams, last night. “We didn’t feel comfortable in continuing to run the shops.
“We are very disappointed about this. We wanted to sponsor and be there and we’ve now got to work out where we’re welcome. When you’ve invested in something for over a decade and then you take it away, that money may not come back quickly. That’s not a threat, we are just not the kind of firm that tends to do short-term deals.”
A Cheltenham spokeswoman confirmed that the shops will have to be run by a firm which is an ABP. That dramatically reduces the options, since Bet365, Betfair and 32Red are the only major firms to have gained ABP status and of those only the first-named have any retail experience. Resolving this issue in short order must now be a high priority for the track, since a shortage of betting facilities on the site would be a PR disaster.
The British Horseracing Authority issued a statement to say that “an expansion of the support of a global brand for the Cheltenham Festival’s key races is good news and a testament to the value of British racing’s assets to major sponsors”. An authority spokesman did not want to expand on the ABP debate beyond insisting that talks were continuing with various firms. Guardian Service