The Blenheim Horse Trials are returning in 2021 and for the first time will be organised by The Jockey Club. The trials take place in the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire from Thursday 16th September to Sunday 19th September inclusive. A pinnacle of the eventing calendar, the fixture includes FEI-accredited and internationally-recognised competitions; a CCI4*-L (four-star Long) and CCI4*-S for eight and nine-year-old horses (four-star Short).
The Jockey Club operates 15 racecourses across the UK, including iconic venues like Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom Downs and Newmarket. Explaining how The Jockey Club were given responsibility for Blenheim Horse Trials, Ian Renton, Managing Director of The Jockey Club’s West Region, explained: “When we saw Blenheim looking for tenders to take on the operation for five years, it made us think that we have often considered how we can use the expertise we have inside The Jockey Club and how we can use that outside our own sport of racing.
“The timing of Blenheim works well with it taking place in September and the fact that our team is incredibly busy in the winter, especially in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival, but we have more time to devote to other events in the summer months.”
The Jockey Club, founded in 1750 and with Her Majesty The Queen as its Patron, is one of the largest organisations in British sport and stages more than 340 horseracing fixtures each year. Uniquely, all profits made by The Jockey Club are reinvested directly back into racing and Renton believes this model will work extremely effectively at a venue such as Blenheim over the coming years.
Renton continued: “What we have at The Jockey Club is fairly unique as we are a sporting body that operates multiple venues in the sporting sector. If you look at Premier League football or Premiership rugby, you have one club operating one venue but at The Jockey Club we operate 15 venues covering events such as the Randox Grand National Festival, The Festival at Cheltenham and the Cazoo Derby Festival at Epsom Downs.
“All are world-class events and we have got the experience and skillsets required to stage them. We also have all the support required to make those events happen in terms of marketing, communications, sales and partnerships, which very few other sporting organisations would have on our scale.
“In other ways we do already work with other UK sports with ticketing, financing and HR but we felt Blenheim was a fantastic opportunity to bring with us all the skills and experience we have spent so many years cultivating within The Jockey Club. In this case it will be largely the team at Cheltenham who are leading on this. What we have achieved there over many years has been the result of focussing everything on being for the benefit of all our participants and racegoers. This is a wonderful opportunity to bring that approach to eventing, especially at a venue as iconic as Blenheim.
“The Jockey Club model is that we are a commercial body which puts all of our profits back into the sport in a variety of ways, including via prize money and improving facilities. We would be looking at something similar at Blenheim where we can increase the revenues through things like new partnerships, ticket sales and hospitality. We can than invest that in improved facilities, improved services and increased prize money.
“At the moment we want to see the revenues coming in before we can start on the long list of things we want to do. We have been incredibly lucky to have been able to put together an advisory board of some really talented people led by Alice and William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell, Zara Tindall, Di Brunsden and Terry Miller. They are advising us on eventing and ensuring we plug any gaps in our knowledge. Their support and guidance, coupled with other members of our team like Becky Elvin, our Operations Manager at Cheltenham, who know an awful lot about eventing is invaluable.
“We have a lot of partners who are thrilled to be involved in our headline events such as the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, The Derby and throughout the Flat racing season at Newmarket. There are a number of brands we have already been talking to such as Bentley and Boodles who are already involved with us at The Festival and other areas at The Jockey Club who might share our excitement at being involved with an iconic venue like Blenheim.”
While eventing and horseracing are obviously different disciplines, Renton is firmly of the opinion that the two share more than just the involvement of horses.
He explained: “We have a database of a quarter of a million people at Cheltenham alone. It is obviously a different equine discipline but I think there is quite a lot of crossover between racing and eventing in terms of people who love both. The synergies between the two are not to be underestimated.
“We want to ensure spectators, participants and everyone attending have an unforgettable experience. Like all these events, the sport must be the major reason people attend, but we have now extended free admission for the under 18s and there will be family fun activities dedicated to those at the younger end of the age spectrum. We are also looking at fun ways we can compliment the sport itself and attract a new audience as well as entertain the existing one. Hospitality on offer has also increased in the Palace and Lakeside pavilions – within a week of the website launching, we sold 74 hospitality packages.
“The trade stand area is another focus, with the aim being to make it more spectator-friendly. We are also introducing an upgraded Club Enclosure alongside general admission which allows access to the Club Pavilion with views of the warm-up area and cross-country areas, so spectators have the option of upgrading if they want to.
“Year one will be something of a learning curve, so we don’t won’t to diverge too much from what has been successful before, but hopefully we can improve the event bit by bit.
“Looking after the participants – the owners, riders and grooms – is very high on our list and we want to try and improve things for them.”
As regards to the actual course at Blenheim, that will once again be designed by David Evans, while another benefit of The Jockey Club’s involvement will be the expertise in turf management.
Simon Claisse, Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham Racecourse and South West Head of Racing for The Jockey Club, explained: “The course will be designed by David Evans. When we were pitching for the tender back in the autumn, we were delighted to get the commitment of David and his team to continue to do the course design and preparation.
“David designed the course for the Tokyo Olympics and is very well respected for what he does. He has a very good relationship with the estate which is key to delivering the cross-country course in particular in top-class order.
“Coming from a racing management background, we are steeped in making sure the underfoot conditions are right because that is absolutely paramount in terms of ensuring horses can give their best performance. It is always at the heart of all of our preparations and we will be in support of David and his team who have done such a brilliant job in years gone by.”