WHEN Toronado won the 2013 Sussex Stakes, it was a great day in the life of Goodwood racecourse.
Richard Hughes’ incredible ride to claim the showpiece race of Glorious Goodwood from Toronado’s big rival Dawn Approach will live long in the memory of those present.
But what no-one realised straight away – and what few know even until now – is it was a race, and in particular a victory for Toronado, that was to play a massive part in changing the course of racing at Goodwood for at least the foreseeable future.
Toronado is owned by Sheik Joaan Al Thani and many of his advisors were present to enjoy a memorable day. They loved the race and loved the whole meeting – and it was the spark for talks about how whether the Qataris could become involved in backing Goodwood, and the festival in particular.
There was a lot of talking and negotiating to be done but over the best part of 18 months, the deal which will see them put in £2m in 2015 and increase that year on year for a decade was put in place. It was announced three days before Christmas – the perfect early gift for Goodwood.
It’s the single biggest sponsorship deal ever done for the benefit of British racing and makes the Qatar Goodwood Festival – which, racecourse bosses are quick to point out, people can and will still call Glorious Goodwood – one of the most significant and valuable meetings in the world.
If you visit racecourse managing director Adam Waterworth in his office looking out across the track, you might expect to see him with feet up, smoking a cigar, thinking his work for the next decade is done. Not quite – although he admits he has been puffing away a bit more than usual.
“I think it’s exciting and scary in equal measure,” he said. “We were so caught up with getting the deal over the line, we didn’t fully step back and consider its implications. Now we have the small matter of delivering it!” he smiles.
“It was a long time in the making. In fact, when I first started here (he arrived in 2010) Lord March asked me what in my dreams we’d need to put up in terms of prize money to take Glorious Goodwood to the truly international stage.
“I put some thoughts together but it was when Toronado won the Sussex Stakes in 2013 that things really started moving. Sheik Joaan was still relatively new to racing but he was looking for opportunities and things fell into place. A lot of it had a touch of good fortune about it.
“Richard Hannon was his trainer and Richard loves Goodwood. And Frankie Dettori (although Richard Hughes was on toronado) was the Sheik’s retained rider and Frankie loves Goodwood too.
“We had conversations at the back end of 2013 and then went to Doha, the Qatari capital, last February. It grew from there and ended up with them wanting to sponsor the whole meeting and put their name to all the big races.
“The Qataris have really bought into the idea that the festival is great but that it can be much greater with significant investment. They are massive investors in sport and are very passionate about racing.”
Waterworth says the long-term nature of the new partnership is vital. “Once we’d settled on the idea of Glorious Goodwood being the meeting that worked for them, I think on both sides there was agreement it needed to be long-term. To have this in place for ten years is fantastic – it really gives you scope to make it work and grow.
“This deal has taken the festival to a completely new level – not just up a notch, but up many notches. It’s significant for British racing, not just for Goodwood. And I think the industry as a whole is delighted it’s happening.”
The sponsorship does mean some existing sponsors have had to be dropped from some of the big races, but Waterworth says on the whole, those missing out have understood why. All bar one, he says, are remaining involved in supporting racing at Goodwood.
It also brings a swift end to controversy that erupted last year when 32Red sponsored the Stewards’ Cup and it was renamed the 32Red Cup. Qatar will now sponsor the race – and are delighting traditionalists by calling it the Qatar Stewards’ Cup.
So, all the pound signs are all very well, but what difference will the deal mean to the average race-goer?
“The level of prize money we are now offering means we will be offering as good a product as anywhere in the world,” says Waterworth.
“The Sussex Stakes will be up with the top five mile races in the world, for example. In that race and others, we already attract the best horses in Britain, plus some from Ireland and France.
“In the new era, we’d expect to get not only the best horses from Britain, Ireland and France but also Japan, Hong Kong, the USA, Australia – the list goes on.
“So race-goers will, if you like, be more for their money – they’ll be seeing more quality and more competitive races.
“It won’t all suddenly fall into place in 2015, it will take time. But this is the start of a very exciting era.
“Does the money guarantee, for example, a fabulous Sussex Stakes? Not in itself, but it gives us the lever to go out and make that happen.”
Waterworth says the investment also means Goodwood can take a longer-term view of capital projects and get to grips with work already being done year on year to improve facilities for race-goers.
THE GOODWOOD-QATAR DEAL AT A GLANCE
The £2m goes into prize money for eight key races during festival week, which will now be worth £4.5m – up from just over £2m last year.
The Qatar Sussex Stakes will has a total prize fund of £1m – up from £300,000 – to cement its position as one of the most valuable mile races in the world.
Another Group 1 race, the Qatar Nassau Stakes on the Saturday of the festival, is now worth £600,000, making it the most significant mid-summer race for fillies.
Three Group 2 races, the Qatar Lennox Stakes (Tuesday), the Qatar Goodwood Cup (Thursday) and the Qatar King George Stakes (Friday) are now worth £300,000 each, recognising their recent records for attracting some of the best horses at their respective distances.
If any current Group 2 race achieves Group 1 status, the prize money will rise to at least £500,000.
Two Group 2 races for two-year-olds, the Qatar Vintage Stakes and the Qatar Richmond Stakes, will each be run for £200,000.
The Qatar Stewards’ Cup – the headline handicap of the week – will be worth £250,000, up from £100,000, with its consolation race on the ame day now a £75,000 contest.
The Qatar Sussex Stakes, The Qatar Goodwood Cup and The Qatar Nassau Stakes will remain part of the QIPCO British Champion Series.
The inaugural Qatar Goodwood Festival will take place from Tuesday, July 28, to Saturday, August 1.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FESTIVAL
Goodwood bosses have vowed not to take theie eyes off the ball – or the track – where the rest of their season of flat racing is concerned.
Qatar’s megabucks deal affects only Glorious week at the end of July and course officials say there’s no reason the other 14 scheduled meetings, including two three-day festivals, should suffer or be forgotten.
Adam Waterworth says: “The rest of our calendar is of course very important to us and will remain strong. From the opening day to the season finale, we will be as determined as ever to deliver top-quality racing and other entertainment to the highest standards.”
The 2015 season kicks off on Saturday, May 2, before the three-day May Festival – now in its fourth year in its present form – takes place from Thursday, May 21 to Saturday 23, featuring trials for the Derby and the Oaks.
The Three Friday Nights – a heady mixture of racing and dance-music sets from top DJs – run from June 5 to June 19, with the Sunday School race fixture, when the crowd get to see behind the scenes and raise money for racing charities, on June 7.
After the Qatar-sponsored festival, they’re back in action with the August bank-holiday meeting from Friday, August 28 to Sunday 30, including the Celebration Mile on the Saturday.
There’s autumn racing on Tuesday, September 1 and Wednesday, September 23, with the season finale coming round all too quickly on Sunday, October 11.