Gambling | The Smart Money

Nosing ahead

Along with great horse action, business nous and lots of imagination are requisites for a successful modern racecourse. Goodwood leads the pack.

September 10 2010
Jamie Reid

There is racing at Goodwood this weekend. The beautiful course on the Duke of Richmond’s estate on the Sussex Downs is most famously associated with the “Glorious” meeting at the end of July. But connoisseurs of Goodwood know that the September fixtures often show the setting at its best. On fine days, the surrounding woods and harvested fields are bathed in a golden late-summer light and, were it not for the Solent glistening in the distance, you could almost imagine you were in Tuscany rather than the south of England.

But the setting is not the only reason for Goodwood’s success. This also has to do with the popularity of the racing, the continual upgrading of buildings and facilities and the ability of the estate to market and develop the brand across a wide range of products and events. Last month, it broke new ground with its first Vintage at Goodwood Festival, a celebration of British film, fashion, music, art and design from the 1940s to the 1980s. This joins other established attractions, such as next weekend’s Goodwood Revival, the world’s largest historic-car meeting, and July’s Festival of Speed.

Goodwood’s managing director, Rod Fabricius, is adamant that dynamic modern racecourses have to be multifaceted businesses, and he is always hopeful that spectators enjoying a day out on the Turf will discover Goodwood’s golf course, airfield and hotel, as well as the magnificent Regency country house at the centre of it all. But the 59-year-old Fabricius, who has been working at Goodwood since 1982, has also played a leading role in the wider financing of horse racing.

In 2004, he was a driving force behind the formation of Racing UK, the satellite television service that is owned by 30 of Britain’s top racecourses, Goodwood included. The channel, a pay-per-view subscription service available on Sky – and also carried in thousands of pubs and clubs – broadcasts daily and, outside the offerings on Channel 4 and the BBC, covers most of the prestige horse racing in Britain. Fabricius and his colleagues met opposition at the outset – mainly from bookmaking representatives who preferred dealing with Racing UK’s more betting-oriented rival Attheraces, part-owned by Arena Leisure and BSkyB. But by persuading the 30 racecourses to stand together and eschew outside commercial partners, Racing UK has enabled them to retain control of their broadcasting rights. Revenue earned from the satellite channel helps keep the show on the road and, at a time of austerity, with betting turnover falling, the sport of kings has good cause to be grateful.

Fabricius steps down at the end of this year, though he will remain on the Goodwood board. High-rolling punters are likely to be familiar with the family through his son Balthazar who founded bespoke London bookmaking firm Fitzdares with backing from his friends Zac and Ben Goldsmith. The company is named, like the odds-maker himself, after one of the characters in JP Donleavy’s comic novel The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, a favourite of Fabricius Sr. In Donleavy’s stories the heroes are invariably financially embarrassed and in need of funds, which sometimes arrive in the nick of time, courtesy of a winning tip. Readers in need of a bit of a lift this weekend may enjoy some respite if they back Arctic Cosmos, who ran well at the Glorious meeting, in tomorrow’s St Leger, at 10-1 with Hills.