Ladbrokes' Mike Dillon to leave the company in July
Man who helped save the Grand National to move on after 46 years
Mike Dillon, the man who became synonymous with Ladbrokes in a career spanning 46 years and who helped save the Grand National when it was imperilled in the 1970s, is to leave the bookmaker next month.
Dillon, 66, said now was the "perfect time to move on", with the company having merged with Coral and then been taken over by GVC Holdings, but said he hoped to continue working within racing.
He added: "I’ve had a truly amazing time with Ladbrokes with many great memories and have worked with some fantastic colleagues who made the job such a pleasure for me for so long."
Dillon said he was not retiring and that he was looking to remain in horseracing as a consultant.
"I know about a lot of areas of racing, I've been involved in racecourse management, in sponsorship and race planning and so I've a broad knowledge of all aspects of the business," he said.
"From my point of view the fire still burns. I'm still very committed to a game I'm absolutely passionate about. This is not a retirement, I'm going to put myself out there and see what's about. I feel I've got a lot to offer, the horseracing business is my true love."
Dillon, Ladbrokes' director of public relations, began with the firm in 1972 as a trainee betting shop manager in Manchester but his talents were spotted by the firm's legendary boss Cyril Stein who took him to work in London.
When Stein signed a management contract to run the Grand National meeting at the then ailing Aintree for seven years, Dillon was chosen to work there.
"That was a big part of my life for seven years," Dillon said.
"I got dead lucky as you had Red Rum at the time. You didn't need to be a genius to figure that if you could market Red Rum you had a chance of raising the profile of the race. Ginger McCain didn't know me from a bar of soap but I just explained what I was trying to do and it was preaching to the converted with his love of the National.
"I feel immense pride when I go back to Aintree now and see what it has developed into and that I had a small part to play in that."
Dillon's contacts in racing were renowned and he counted some of the biggest and most influential names in the sport among his friends, including Sir Peter O'Sullevan.
"I had a great sense of pride when he asked me to be one of the founding trustees of his charity," Dillon said.
"We were great mates and we had some unbelievable times with our mutual friend Hugh McIlvanney."
Dillon stayed loyal to Ladbrokes despite others trying to tempt him away.
The Jockey Club asked O'Sullevan to sound him out about working for them, while the great Vincent O'Brien asked Dillon to run the now defunct Phoenix Park racecourse, in a three-pronged role which would have also involved being in charge of public relations for Ballydoyle and Coolmore, as well as for the Robert Sangster-owned Vernons Pools.
Dillon added: "I've enjoyed every minute of it, it was an absolute labour of love. I was in the perfect job, I've made some friends I'll have for life.
"The time is right. I'm a great person for looking forward not back. I don't do regrets and I want to move forward and keep involved in this great game."
GVC chief executive Kenny Alexander paid tribute to Dillon, saying he had contributed enormously to Ladbrokes' success.
He added: "He has a deserved reputation for being one of the most knowledgeable figures within the industry and has served Ladbrokes brilliantly. We wish him every success in the future when he leaves our business at the end of July."
Tributes to Mike Dillon from across the industry
I loved Cyril Stein's quote – there's a guy at the end of the corridor there – he can go to Aintree because he talks funny and they will be able to understand him! He's the most influential person you have never heard of because he's well respected by everyone across the industry – the officials, the owners, the trainers, everybody respects him. He's been responsible for a lot of big decisions over the years.
Mike is the consummate racing professional who has been a great ambassador and asset to all aspects of our industry. His association with Sir Peter O'Sullevan was legendary and he shared his ethos, knowledge and passion for the participants in racing, both equine and human. I'm sure he'll continue to be a major positive influence in our great sport.
I've known him for a very long time all through the Grand National days and the Ladbrokes days. He has been a very good friend and a great man for the sport. I hope he stays in the sport because his heart is in it and we're all very fond of him. He once asked me what I was going to do with Trabolgan, saying 'you have got to run that in the Hennessy'. I looked at it and thought 'I don't need to run a novice in the Hennessy with top weight' but he said 'you must'. And he was right!
I've known Mike since 1973 and it's a measure of the man that he's been with one firm for all those years. He was given the most extraordinary amount of respect from owners and trainers. I was in his car once and he had a phone call from a very eminent trainer in Ireland saying, 'Mike I'm having great difficulty deciding which is the right race for my horse at Cheltenham, what do you think?'. Probably the most extraordinary thing about Mike was he had this incredible relationship with Sir Peter O'Sullevan. I always used to say he was the son that Peter never had, they were so close and the mutual respect was extraordinary.
I've worked with Mike most of my career in racing. He has been a great friend and great colleague and we've worked incredibly closely for a huge number of years. I'm sure he'll remain involved in a capacity and he'll not be far away. I think all of us who have worked with him for so long will miss him hugely as he's always been there.
I've known Mike one way or another for over 25 years and worked closely with him for a few years when I returned to Ladbrokes in 2011. He has been a very effective and loyal ambassador for nearly half a century, developing a hugely significant network of leading individuals within racing and elsewhere. He helped influence a significant amount of change in our sport, including the saving of the Grand National, the extension of the Cheltenham Festival to four days and the resurrection of the St Leger festival. I'd like to wish him well with his next steps.
If you are interested in this, you should read: New kid on the block GVC to join giants after Ladbrokes Coral deal
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