Author: Duane Fonseca
As the man running one of the most important organisations in horse racing, Simon Bazalgette, the chief executive of The Jockey Club, has an important role to play in what is often considered the epicentre of the sport globally. Bazalgette has been responsible for the ‘strategic direction and running of The Jockey Club’ since stepping into the role of Group CEO in September 2008. According to The Jockey Club website, among his many roles, Bazalgette is tasked with ‘overseeing maximum commercial return from the group’s assets, while developing relationships with key figures inside and outside the sport’.
In what was purely a relationship building exercise, Bazalgette visited Dubai recently and was privy to racing both at Jebel Ali and the cracker Super Saturday card at Meydan. During his visit, he met with HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Deputy Ruler of Dubai and the UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, and other senior officials at Meydan to discuss racing affairs. Bazalgette even presented Sheikh Hamdan with a book commemorating the Epsom Derby, won twice by him as owner in 1989 and 1994 with Nashwan and Erhaab respectively. Speaking with Al Adiyat, Bazalgette commended the UAE for taking major strides in racing and was happy to discuss the important role played by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid and other Emirati investors in racing in the UK.
Q. Is this your first visit to the UAE?
A. I’ve been here before. Two years ago I think on Super Saturday and it’s always an exciting day with the World Cup coming up.
Q. So what brings you to the UAE on this occasion?
A. It’s really only to meet people we work with here in Dubai and back in the UK. There’s a particularly close relationship between racing in the UK and The Jockey Club, particularly at Newmarket, with Dubai and Sheikh Mohammed and his family and it is a great opportunity to come and see one of the greatest racecourses in the world and the centre of Thoroughbred racing. We are here to further develop relationships that have been developing over the years.
Q. Any visible changes in racing in the UAE since your first visit?
A. I think it has become stronger and stronger as you can see from the quality of the horses that are racing today
(Super Saturday) and that’s very much due to the efforts Sheikh Mohammed and his family have put in.
Q. How is British racing doing?
A. We can’t unfortunately match the prize money that you have at Meydan, but the prize money is going to be at a record level this year. It’s going to be up by about 10-15% and that’s a record and we have managed to grow the prize money in difficult commercial conditions.
Q. Boosting Royal Ascot prize money should make it a grander affair and is bound to affect the racing positively. Comment...
A. That can only be good because we need to attract the best in the world; Sheikh Mohammed owns some of the best racehorses in the world and we need to make it attractive for him and the other owners who come from the UK and around the world and want to race at Royal Ascot or the Epsom Derby or any of the other great races we have in the UK.
Q. Are you happy with the attendance figures at UK races?
A. Horse racing is the second most attended sport in the UK after football so that’s six million people that go racing; it’s in good shape because those are record levels as well so we are in good shape. Back home people have a lot of ways they can spend their time and money and we want to make sure they get the best experience they can at racing.
Q. How have investors from this part of the world affected racing in the UK?
A. Well, a lot really since Sheikh Mohammed came over and invested in UK racing, particularly in Newmarket, which is the home of The Jockey Club. We run the racecourses there and we also run the gallops, so it’s our heartland and he’s put a huge amount of money into that both personally and through his family. So has Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the rest of his family and this has been a real boost for British racing, which continues to be the centre of particularly the breeding industry. We also have races that you really want to win to develop a stallion. Those are the races around the world people want to win. We really enjoy seeing a range of people coming over from Dubai and the UAE and it’s great to see that they are supporting Sheikh Mohammed and doing things in their own right and we like to see that happening.
Q. You have a very long season of racing. Is it really very tough to manage?
A. We are very used to it and the first class season, if you like, starts with the Guineas in May and goes through to British Champions Day in October. So it starts at Newmarket and finishes at Ascot. We have a very well delineated set of Group One races that appear every three to four weeks during the season for every category of horse, whether they are sprinters, stayers or middle distance. There’s something for everybody during the course of that season, plus as we do in British style, every festival has its own character whether it’s the Guineas or Goodwood or York or the Eclipse at Sandown. They all have their own character so that’s why we get people to go racing in the UK.
Q. How does Dubai fare as a city in the world of horse racing?
A. Meydan is perhaps the most advanced racecourse in the world. It’s a great place to come to and they’ve done things fantastically well here, but I went racing at Jebel Ali and it’s a lovely little racecourse with a lot of heritage; and as we have in the UK, big racecourses and small racecourses, each has their own character and it’s good to see that happening in Dubai as well.