Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad remains fully committed to British racing, his spokesman said on Saturday, following decisions to end sponsorships in France and Ireland. Qipco, an investment vehicle for Qatari royals, will no longer be the title sponsor for the French Derby or the Irish Champion Stakes and other savings will be necessary but the Sheikh will continue to give his backing to Champions Day at Ascot and the series of prestigious Flat races that lead up to it.
“This year, seeing the way the world is going, everybody has got to be much more frugal and efficient in the manner in which they spend their money,” said David Redvers, racing manager to Sheikh Fahad, whose claret colours have become familiar to racegoers through the exploits of Roaring Lion and other top-class racers. “What we are absolutely determined to do is to ensure that the money which Qipco puts into racing achieves the maximum effect for the sport. The whole purpose is to widen its appeal, to reach a bigger audience and leave a lasting legacy for Sheikh Fahad and his brothers’ investment. It’s terribly important that we use it wisely and deliver the results.”
The sharp-eyed might notice one consequence as TV cameras pan around British tracks later this year, assuming Flat racing becomes possible at some stage. “We won’t be branded up around the nation’s racecourses as we were before,” Redvers said, “because it was an extraordinary and unnecessary expense.”
Qipco has already poured huge sums of money into British racing, having been the title sponsor for British Champions Day since its first year, 2011. An extended deal with Ascot, Newmarket and the British Champions Series in 2015 was hailed as the biggest in the sport’s history and it seemed there was no bottom to this particular well.
The withdrawal from sponsoring in Ireland and France shows everything has its limits, but Redvers said Qipco would continue to be a huge contributor to prize money in Britain under the Champions Series deal, which runs until 2024.
“I’m not sure about the absolute pounds, shillings and pence. What we’re doing is reorganising so that we can maintain everything at a sensible level. Obviously the world economy is taking a massive battering in every direction and Qipco are basically ensuring that we can keep sponsoring at a good level for as long as possible. This isn’t about a reduction, it’s about sustainability. There’s been some fantastic positives to come out of Qipco’s sponsorship, not least that the average age of the racegoers going to Champions Day has been falling, year on year.
“The reason Qipco started sponsoring the Irish Champion Stakes was that we were great promoters of the Champions Day initiative in the UK and we wanted to help Joe Foley and the Irish Champions Day team do the same thing in Ireland. We agreed to sponsor the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes on a three-year term, to help get the thing up and running. It wasn’t meant to be a long-term plan. In the end, we sponsored for twice as long as was initially planned. It was a wonderful thing to win the race with Roaring Lion [in 2018] but it was only ever a short-term plan to help them establish the weekend.”
Sheikh Fahad has also recently decided to sell his Longholes Stud in Newmarket, which is being advertised with a guide price of £4m. Redvers said the Sheikh had bought it with the intention of making a home on the site but he had since bought a home elsewhere in the area. While he is currently in California, Sheikh Fahad apparently intends to return to Britain as soon as travel restrictions allow, partly in the hope of seeing his classy Kameko take part in the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby.
“We spent more money on yearlings last year than we had in the previous three,” Redvers added. “Sheikh Fahad bought a good number of very smart yearlings, has hugely exciting horses in training and, like everybody else involved, we’re all just frantic to get the sport back on, albeit behind closed doors, so that we can protect this generation of bloodstock and participants’ livelihoods.”