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Big brands could go head to head in radical team competition

Championship Horse Racing: how the branded team silks might look
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A new brand of racing unique in concept and with a vision to attract blue-chip sponsorship from across the world could launch in Britain next year.

Championship Horse Racing would centre on a team competition with a scoring system similar to F1, pitting 12 global brands against each other in an eight-week summer series.

Although still in its infancy, plans revealed exclusively to the Racing Post are geared towards a 2019 launch and would include:

  • 12 branded teams similar to Red Bull in F1 or Team Sky in cycling
  • A £10 million+ investment in British racing
  • Six £100,000+ handicaps per meeting
  • Squads of 30 horses and four riders per team

The blueprint suggests a multi-million-pound investment for British racing, with a different 'Group 1 racecourse' staging the series in an early-evening televised slot every Thursday for eight weeks through the summer.  

The driving force behind the concept is Jeremy Wray, former chairman of Swindon Town Football Club, who hopes the series can “turbo-boost audience, prize-money and participation growth rates” as recently seen in other sports like the Twenty20 format of cricket and darts.  

“The anonymity of racing has always driven me mad,” said Wray, whose brother Ed was a co-founder of Betfair. “I’m confident that by going out there and setting up a competition which is team based and has an exclusivity to it, you’re going to get a very exciting mix of brands.

"I’m not going to claim to know where they’re all going to come from, but I'd like to think there will be a couple of brands you or I haven’t heard of because this is an opportunity for countries who are looking to break into the UK.”

Jeremy Wray: driving force behind Championship Horse Racing

While racing has struggled in the past to attract powerhouse brands to the sport, Wray is confident the concept of owning a team makes this a very different beast to traditional race sponsorship.    

“If you think more Indian Premier League than F1 here, it could almost become a brand playground if you go to the right people,” he said. “They get a whole racing team, 30 horses, a stake in a yard, two and a half hours on prime-time television a week, and a constant narrative going on through the series, hopefully turning viewers into fans of a brand.”

Wray explained that each squad of 30 horses may be in the care of a single trainer or multiple trainers, while the team brand they race under will have four dedicated jockeys, who will ride only for their team during the series.

While big-name brands will own the team, the series is not only for the elite, with handicaps rather than Listed or Group races making up each six-race meeting in the series, which should in theory make it accessible to the majority of owners, trainers and horses.

Wray hopes the series will engage with a new audience as well as strike the right chord with existing fans and, while the team/brand element is crucial to its narrative, promoting those at the heart of the action will also play a big part.   

He added: “It’s very much focusing on the characters and key participants, so the jockeys and trainers if you like, as opposed to the horse. To keep the F1 analogy going, the horses are the engines but we need to get to know the people better. For the sport and its prestige we've got to build these people up.”

Horses enlisted in the competition will still be eligible to run in any race throughout the racing calendar, although when they appear in the series it will be in team colours rather than their owners’ silks.

Each team will have one runner per race, meaning 12-runner contests throughout, as the organisers try to make the competition as accessible and attractive to viewers as possible.

All 48 races across the eight fixtures of the series will have prize-money of at least £100,000, and when taking into account the team prize-money on offer through a scoring system that stretches down to tenth place in each race, the amount on offer will be far greater than the race value, with owners, trainers, yards and jockeys all benefiting from what would be a fresh investment in the sport via the blue-chip brands at the heart of the concept.

The points system will ultimately determine an overall winning team and jockey.  

Wray said: “The 12 brands will be able to select their trainers, who may be individuals or trainers who have coupled to present themselves as a team capable of providing this squad of 30 horses. Hopefully a whole load of trainers will put themselves forward as potentially captaining a team.”

Championship Horse Racing: the format

>The series will comprise 12 teams each having a squad of 30 horses which may be in the care of a single trainer or multiple trainers

>They will compete in eight fixtures of six races each staged on Thursday evenings during consecutive weeks (July to September)

>Each of the 48 races will have 12 runners, one from each team

>Points will be awarded in a similar format to F1 with 25 points to the winner down to one point to tenth place

Initial talks with the sport’s stakeholders have been mostly positive according to Wray, with the Jockey Club who, along with Racecourse Media Group, have an agreement in principle of ownership structure and partnership terms in the series, working closely with the Championship Horse Racing chief executive and his team – which includes former trainer Charlie Brooks – to develop the idea. An agreement has also been reached in principle with ITV to broadcast the full series.

According to Wray, the BHA is also behind the series, while “positive initial discussions” with such as the National Trainers’ Federation and Professional Jockeys Association have taken place. Two of Newmarket’s most respected and successful trainers have also seen plans and are reportedly backing the idea.

He added: “Nothing is contractually signed yet but racing has been unbelievably supportive. What’s been really encouraging is that everyone is trying to help build this thing.

“It’s at a very early stage but the important things is getting the concept out there and for people to understand and see it’s hopefully a win-win for everybody, as it’s an opportunity for new funding to come into the sport. It’s going to be exciting but the hard work starts here.”

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If you think more Indian Premier League than F1 here, it could almost become a brand playground if you go to the right people
E.W. Terms