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Ascot losses to exceed £10m this year as royal track aims to bounce back

Ascot: turnover was down 77 per cent in 2020
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Ascot recorded a loss of £200,000 in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19, but the course is expecting losses to extend to more than £10 million this year as financial cushions fall away.

Nevertheless, chief executive Guy Henderson said the course had a "solid platform" to bounce back from the pandemic over the next two years having not had to increase borrowing so far in 2021.

Henderson was speaking as Ascot released its financial results for 2020 on Wednesday, which showed a pre-tax loss of £200,000, compared to a profit of £7.3m in 2019.

Turnover was down 77 per cent during the year as Covid-19 restrictions meant that only two meetings were held with crowds, another 18 taking place behind closed doors.

However, without insurance cover, furlough and business rates relief, Ascot would have suffered a pre-tax loss of more than £31m last year.

That insurance cover has not been available in 2021 and, with crowds having been limited for much of the year, most notably for the royal meeting in June, Henderson said Ascot was forecasting "a significant pre-tax loss in 2021".

Ascot chief executive Guy Henderson

He told the Racing Post: "We are going to absorb a loss of over £10 million. It is a little bit early to be too precise but it will be over £10 million this year.

"From the perspective of running the business, we remain on track to absorb the 2021 pain without having to increase borrowings, which, for an events-driven business, we feel is a solid platform from which to bounce back in 2022 and 2023.

"I say 2022 and 2023 because we have an uncertain winter ahead of us. We are confident we are going to keep going but quite where we are compared to 2019 is still a little uncertain in 2022."

Henderson said that pre-pandemic, the royal meeting accounted for around 70 per cent of Ascot's annual business.

The fixture took place behind closed doors in 2020 and with limited crowds this year as part of the government's Events Research Programme, so to effectively lose the commercial benefit of Royal Ascot for two years had been "very tough for us", Henderson stressed.

He added: "I really want to pay tribute not only to our staff but also to all our customers and partners for sticking with us because at times the level of uncertainty was almost intolerable.

"But when you ask yourself the question, is it worth it to try to give the government confidence and the people confidence that we could be safe, it was worth every bit of energy and I thank everybody that was involved."

Ascot's gross debt had increased by £2m to £59.4m by the end of 2020, while Henderson said the business had reduced its number of employees by around 20 per cent as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, although he added numbers were beginning to build again.

He went on: "Having to lose dedicated and loyal employees, who had contributed to Ascot’s success over recent years, was hard for all concerned."

Prize-money for this year's Royal Ascot was £6m, 75 per cent of what had originally been planned for 2020, and the course has said it is looking at targeted increases for its forthcoming jumps meetings.

Henderson said: "Prize-money and capital investment have inevitably been impacted as a result of the pandemic. 

"We plan to build back on both fronts to pre-Covid levels as prudently and as quickly as practicable from next year. Attracting and rewarding the best quality racing and providing top-class facilities are important business priorities."

Henderson, who is stepping down as chief executive after next year's royal meeting, said 2022 would be "unique".

He added: "It is going to be Royal Ascot in a Platinum Jubilee year and it will be a huge celebration. Our inspiration going forwards is a combination of that with the light at the end of the tunnel because it is going to be a unique event for people to enjoy across the globe."

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Attracting and rewarding the best quality racing and providing top class facilities are important business priorities

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