Prize money boost as Qipco extend sponsorship of British Champions Series

Elite horse racing receives major boost as Qatari firm extends sponsorship for another five years - and looks to raise Champions Day prize money to Dh22.8m.

Christophe Soumillon rides Cirrus des Aigles past Ryan Moore on So You Think to win the 2011 Champion Stakes on British Champions Day.
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British racing received a huge boost yesterday when Qipco Holding extended their sponsorship at the elite end of the sport.

The improved deal has resulted in the Qatari firm adding another five years to their sponsorship of the British Champions Series, in addition to the hope that prize-money to British Champions Day, held annually in October, can be increased to £4million (Dh22.8m).

"We believe that Britain hosts the world's best horseracing," Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, Chief Executive of Qipco Holding, said "We respect and appreciate the heritage of the sport and we would like it to maintain its status as the most important and deep-rooted in the world."

British Champions Day, held at Ascot Racecourse, is currently worth £3million and is already by far Britain's most valuable race day, although it pales in comparison to Dubai World Cup night, which last year was valued at $27.25 million.

The extra-prize money will take the shape of incentives, which kick in when any of the three non-Group One races on Qipco Champions Day are elevated in status.

Currently those races are the Group 3 Long Distance Cup, the Group 2 Sprint Stakes, and the Fillies and Mares' Stakes, all of which are sponsored by the Qipco British Champions Series.

It is estimated the target of £4million will be reached in 2016.

The agreement comes only a year after Qipco launched the British Champions Series, a set of 35 races that comprise British racing's top table at ten elite racecourses.

The heavy involvement of Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, one of six brothers alongside Sheikh Hamad, in the sport and his burgeoning bloodstock empire through Qatar Bloodstock has also eased through the deal.

"The deal reflects the very positive experience that we have enjoyed with British Racing to date, and the pleasure we derive from our association with Britain's most famous and iconic race meetings such as the Guineas, Derby, Royal Ascot, Goodwood and York," Sheikh Hamad added. ""We are still in the early stages of a journey which we hope will contribute to the overall well-being of top level Flat racing in this country for many years to come, with the subsequent benefits filtering down to the industry as a whole."

Despite almost Dickensian prize-money levels in Britain in international terms, the racing here continues to attract the best horses due to the prestige attached to the sport.

The inaugural British Champions Day last season attracted six of the world's ten highest-rated active horses and is clearly beginning to have an impact on the carefully planned international programme.

Last month a delegation of representatives from America's Breeders' Cup went to Royal Ascot for talks in an effort to move Champions Day to September in order to not clash with their self-styled World Championships, which takes place in November.

"It took considerable effort and sacrifice to get the concept off the ground," Rod Street, Chief Executive of British Champions Series, said.

"Securing a major sponsor is part of virtuous circle of higher prize money, high quality horses and broadcast coverage, all of which safeguards the status of British Flat racing.

"It is vital that we increase prize money as much as possible going forwards to establish the day as a really serious player on the international stage."

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and Geoffrey Riddle