Douglas Erskine-Crum, the man who oversaw the £210m redevelopment of Ascot racecourse, has quit, barely four months after the venue's flagship Royal meeting opened and closed to uncompromisingly mixed reviews. But, insisted the 57-year-old ex-army man, he has not been made a scapegoat for criticism the project has attracted.
"I have not fallen on my sword," he said yesterday, "nor have I been pushed onto it. It is just that the time has come for me to find a new challenge. I had never planned to finish my working life at Ascot."
Erskine-Crum will leave his position as chief executive in the New Year. The creation of the new grandstand and realignment of the track over 20 months have been the focus of much of his tenure of more than 12 years at the course. But the new-look Ascot has not met with universal approval, the most vociferous criticisms being over problems with viewing. Remedial works costing an estimated additional £25m will be required; the details will be announced next month.
The Ascot executive is perfectly aware of the implications of Erskine-Crum's departure so soon after the qualified success of such a high-profile revolution. "There are more conspiracy theorists in the US than there are Christians," said the chairman, the Duke of Devonshire. "But they would have no joy here. There are, we know, some things wrong but very much more right. Douglas has taken Ascot into the 21st century and realised its potential as one of the great racecourses of the world. We are indebted to him."
The announcement of Erskine-Crum's resignation has been timed for Ascot to find a replacement before the Royal fixture in June. "It is certainly not a poisoned chalice," added Devonshire. "The most off-putting part of the job will be the act to be followed."