British Champions Series, a major new premier series of British horseracing, will be introduced from 2011, climaxing with the richest fixture in British racing history, British Champions Day, at the internationally-renowned Ascot Racecourse. The move has been hailed by senior industry figures as a crucial step towards broadening the appeal of the UK's second most attended sport with new audiences across Britain and around the world.
With a total prize money pot of more than £13 million, British Champions Series will feature 35 premier Flat races, staged at ten of the UK's leading racecourses: Ascot, Doncaster, Epsom Downs, Goodwood, Haydock Park, Newbury, Newmarket's July Course, Newmarket's Rowley Mile, Sandown Park and York.
It will encompass British racing's key festivals, including the Guineas Festival at Newmarket, the Epsom Derby Festival, Royal Ascot, the Newmarket July Festival, Glorious Goodwood, the Ebor Festival at York and the Doncaster St Leger Meeting.
British Champions Series will comprise five champion categories, namely Sprint, Mile, Middle Distance, Long Distance and Fillies and Mares (Race distances from 1 mile to 1 ½ miles). Each will feature the six highest-rated races in each championship category to create easy-to-follow narratives for a wider audience.
Offering more than £3 million of prize money, British Champions Day will become the UK's richest-ever day of racing. Featuring the Champion Stakes (Middle Distance), Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Mile), Diadem Stakes (Sprint), Jockey Club Cup (Long Distance) and Pride Stakes (Fillies and Mares), and with Ascot's prime location, capacity and international brand, the long-term aim is for the event to create a high profile stage to rank with the likes of the USA's Breeders' Cup and France's Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe.
The series will launch on Saturday 30 April 2011 with the 2,000 Guineas on Newmarket's Rowley Mile course and climax at British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday 15 October 2011. The very best of British Flat racing will be showcased via a format that is easy-to-follow on television, through the media and on-course.
Other sports have proved that successfully differentiating and marketing premier events can transform their popularity, with the benefits felt by the whole sport, including increased attendances, betting revenues, sponsorship and media rights value.
Karl Oliver, Chief Executive of British Champions Series Ltd, said: "British racing is the best in the world, but we need to give our sport a major new platform to compete for the public's attention. Britain's richest-ever day of racing is the opportunity to attract the very best British and overseas horses to compete at our top international racecourse. It will be the autumn climax that British racing needs.
"By also introducing a series framework, we can highlight and use the best races throughout the Flat season to engage a much wider audience in our sport. In time, British racing can be proud that it backed British Champions Series and British Champions Day."
The highly complex and challenging process of establishing British Champions Series has seen a combined effort from a wide range of British racing's stakeholders, led by the Racing for Change (RfC) industry group and the BCS racecourses, supported by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), the Racecourse Association (RCA) and The Horsemen's Group, representing owners, trainers, breeders, jockeys and stable staff.
The series' race programme has required several fixtures to switch venue from their 2010 location and/or move into new slots. Achieving this has required significant steps to be taken by The Jockey Club, Newmarket Racecourse and Ascot Racecourse in particular, in the best interests of British racing.
An extensive consultation process has been conducted throughout the formation stage of British Champions Series with many prominent racehorse owners, trainers, breeders, racecourses, media companies, prospective commercial partners and racing authorities in the UK and abroad.
Future Champions' Day unveiled
As part of reaching agreement for British Champions Series, Newmarket will host an annual Future Champions Day. This will help to identify racehorses with the potential to compete in the British Champions Series in the following year. Next year this will be hosted at Newmarket's Rowley Mile course on Saturday 8 October 2011 and feature the Dewhurst Stakes (Group 1), Middle Park Stakes (Group 1), Rockfel Stakes (Group 2) and Autumn Stakes (Group 2) for two-year-old horses, and the Challenge Stakes (Group 2), Darley Stakes (Group 2) and the Cesarewitch Heritage Handicap for three-year-olds and upwards.
Commercial structure and funding
A new company will be formed, British Champions Series Limited (BCS Ltd), to run the series. BCS Ltd provides a structure that allows decisions to be made in the most streamlined and efficient manner, which was considered essential to the future success of the project. The investors in the British Champions Series project are the BCS racecourses and REL, which will benefit from equity stakes reflecting their respective investments in the new company. Karl Oliver, Project Director for Premier Racing at Racing Enterprises Ltd (REL), is appointed Chief Executive of BCS Ltd, effective immediately, having been central to its formation.
Oliver will oversee the marketing and commercial rights associated with the new series. A robust business case for BCS Ltd through until 2018 has been established and has been endorsed by RfC, REL and the BCS racecourses.
The terrestrial broadcast rights to all races that will feature in British Champions' Series are currently contracted to the BBC (11 races) and Channel 4 (19 races) through until 2012, with the exception of British Champions Day. BCS Ltd has already entered into discussions with its terrestrial broadcast partners about televising British Champions' Day and in principle, both have expressed an interest to broadcast the fixture.
BCS Ltd has also entered into discussions with a number of prospective commercial partners to British Champions Series. A business plan is in place to evolve the series' sponsorship model as its potential impact grows.
The British Champions Series has no bearing on the official start and end of the Flat racing season in the UK, with the Jockeys' Championship and Trainers' Championship still being awarded at Doncaster in November 2011.