New organiser the Jockey Club has big plans for Blenheim, including investing back into the event. H&H talks to the new team to find out more
PLANS for Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials (16–19 September) have been revealed as new organiser the Jockey Club brings top eventing names on board – and aims for commercial partners to allow reinvestment in the sport.
The event, which features a CCI4*-L and a CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds, will be The Jockey Club’s first as organisers. British Eventing (BE) formerly organised the horse trials but stepped down in August 2020, and following a competitive tender process, the Jockey Club was awarded a five-year contract.
The Jockey Club’s racecourse regional director Ian Renton told H&H that when the tendering process for Blenheim opened, it seemed like a “wonderful opportunity” for the organisation to bring its experience of running events, including the Randox Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival, to eventing – adding that there is a lot of crossover between the two sports.
“We know a lot of people in eventing who love racing, and similarly there will be a lot of racing people who love eventing,” he said. “The synergies between the two are massive.
“We have [commercial] partners at The Jockey Club who like to be involved with the likes of the Festival and the Grand National. There are some brands we’re already talking to like Bentley and Boodles, which operate with us at the Festival and other areas of The Jockey Club, that might well love to be involved also in the horse trials.”
While The Jockey Club “does not anticipate” finding a replacement headline sponsor for 2021, Mr Renton said the team is in talks with brands and commercial partners to bring in sponsorship and partnerships at all levels – and the aim is to have a headline sponsor for 2022.
Mr Renton explained that the Jockey Club is a commercial body that puts all profits back into the sport via prize money or facilities, and the aim for Blenheim is to increase revenues via partnerships and tickets, and reinvest this into the event.
“We want to see the revenues coming in before we can start on the long list of things we want to do. We’ve been incredibly lucky to put together an advisory board of Alice and William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell, Zara Tindall, Di Brunsden and Terry Miller advising us on the things we don’t know about eventing,” said Mr Renton.
Di has evented and owns horses competing to championship level, as well as playing a “major part” in the commercialisation of the sport. Terry is a lawyer and served as general council of the London organising committee of the Olympics and Paralympics.
The prize money for the event will remain at the 2019 level and a key change for 2021 is that the CCI4*-S dressage arena will move from its former home by the cross-country, to in front of the palace alongside the CCI4*-L dressage.
“We want to raise the profile of the CCI4*-S because that really is a super competition and it’s gathering in momentum all the time,” said Becky Elvin, the Jockey Club’s regional operations manager.
“Badminton director Jane Tuckwell is going to be our entries secretary, and we’ve done some great work with her and Eventing Scores to work out how many horses we can take to give an opportunity for people – who don’t have runs elsewhere – to get a run this season over some decent tracks at a big venue.
“We’re very much hoping for a top-quality entry from all the top riders. The feeling about Blenheim is very positive and lots of riders have horses they are hoping to come to us with.”
Long-term Blenheim course-designer David Evans will return to the event and ground management is under way.
“Coming from a racing management background, we’re steeped in making sure the underfoot conditions are right because that’s absolutely paramount in terms of ensuring horses can give their best performance. We will be there in support of David and his team, who have done such a brilliant job in years gone by,” said Simon Claisse, the Jockey Club’s regional head of racing.
Mr Renton added that the team wants to make the event “as great an experience as it can”.
“It is a little bit of a learning curve in year one – we don’t want to diverge too far from what may have been successful in the past but try to improve things bit by bit.”
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“The Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is one of the crown jewels of the eventing calendar,” said a Jockey Club