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How horseracing’s Champions League developed the British sport

PUBLISHED: 14:44 14 June 2013 | UPDATED: 14:44 14 June 2013

Frankel wins the QIPCO Champion Stakes

Frankel wins the QIPCO Champion Stakes

BillSelwyn

Now in its third year the QIPCO British Champions Series has been an outstanding success. Claire White looks at how the event has developed

Qipco British Champions Series is now in its third year – and its aim of channelling the drama and excitement of British racedays into a coherent structure has been a great success.

The decision to create a series of the country’s top 35 races, in five racing categories, to be run throughout the Flat season at 10 racecourses has brought the racing elite into sharp focus.

What’s more, the Series encompasses all Britain’s cherished racing festivals – from the Guineas at Newmarket in May, through summer’s Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood, to a magnificent season climax back here at Ascot with QIPCO British Champions Day in October.

The new structure provides British horseracing with the platform to showcase its stars, pretty much as football’s Champions League or motor racing’s Formula 1 have achieved elsewhere. By grouping the key fixtures under one banner, it elevates them to a status rivalling any staged overseas.

Most importantly, it makes this wonderful sport more accessible to the occasional racegoer or someone who’s coming to it for the first time.

They know that if it is a British Champions Series fixture, they will see the very best that British Flat racing has to offer, at one of the most prestigious racecourses in the world. And they can consult tables to see at a glance how jockeys and trainers are performing in the ultimate battle for supremacy.

Of course, most people will need no introduction to the standard-bearer of the first two years of British Champions Series – Frankel, who used its platform to establish himself as the greatest racehorse of the modern era.

Frankel contested no less than nine QIPCO British Champions Series races, winning all of them. He triumphed in four in 2011 and five in 2012, and culminated each year by thundering to victory at the new season finale, QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot.

Along the way, he captured the imagination of a world swept along by his stunning performances on some of horseracing’s greatest stages.

Undoubtedly, he contributed to the surge in TV audiences in the UK after the QIPCO British Champions Series launched. In the first two years, the number of viewers for the races which now make up the Series increased by 45 per cent.

Attendances have soared, too: last year’s QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot was sold out, with a maximum 32,348 crowd turning out to see Frankel’s final victory before retirement to stud.

Peak TV viewing figures for that day were also up 71 per cent on 2011.

This year the momentum continues as new horses vie for the mighty Frankel’s crown. At time of writing, Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom has arrived from the US with British trainer Graham Motion with Royal Ascot in his sights, while Dawn Approach looks likely to tame top three-year-old honours following his recent win in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas.

While the Frankel factor undoubtedly deserves some of the credit for widening the appeal of British horseracing, the QIPCO British Champions Series created the promotional spotlight.

Rod Street, Chief Executive of British Champions Series Ltd, says: “Frankel’s leap to stardom and the launch of the Series could not have panned out better for us, providing the perfect foundation on which to build.

“But we created a structure to promote the horse. One of the reasons we made more of Frankel was because there was a series and a day, and racing actually had some context for his phenomenal performances.”

Nor was it all about Frankel: the first two QIPCO British Champions Series attracted seven of the nine best horses in the world, a feat unrivalled by any other country.

The quality of horse power on offer also brings record rewards: QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, on 19th October, is now Britain’s richest race day, with £3.4 million prize money.

Many of the world’s best horses will battle for supremacy that day, in each of the Series’ five categories: Sprint; Mile; Middle Distance; Long Distance; and Fillies and Mares.

From this year, the QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes has been upgraded to Group One status to sit alongside the Group 1 QIPCO Champion Stakes and the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes sponsored by QIPCO.

Such high-quality fields are not only attracting record crowds and TV viewers: sponsors, too, want to be associated with the success story the Series has become. The influx of funding is filtering down to benefit the horseracing industry as a whole.

The QIPCO British Champions Series has established Britain as the place to see the best Flat racing in the world – a status it is constantly looking to build on.

Frankel may have retired but one can be sure that there will be plenty of outstanding races to savour and many fascinating stories that will emerge during this and the coming seasons.

Attendances have soared, too: last year’s QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot was sold out, with a maximum 32,348 crowd turning out to see Frankel’s final victory.

***

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The above is featured in the 2013 edition of Royal Ascot Magazine.

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