Racing: Galloping billboard breaches tradition: Greg Wood sees the birth of a brand new era at Chepstow

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The Independent Online
IF SUPPLIES of smelling salts had been laid in to revive shocked traditionalists, they were not required. Carl Llewellyn, riding Earth Summit to finish second in Chepstow's novice chase, yesterday became the first British jockey to wear a sponsor's logo, but his small slice of history moved the spectators to little more than bemused indifference.

There was some confusion, too. The 'Grange Hill' motif on his boots and breeches, not to mention the number-cloth and stable-lass's jacket, referred to the yard of Earth Summit's trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. But children's television was a stronger suggestion for many, a misapprehension compounded by the camera team following Llewellyn's every move.

Their brief, though, was to produce a video for Chasing Promotions, a marketing company, to demonstrate the possibilities of jockey sponsorship to potential clients. The British Horseracing Board relaxed its ban on the corporate logos now familar to football or tennis followers, and allowed Llewellyn 10 minutes as a galloping billboard.

Unmoved though the Chepstow racegoers were (and Earth Summit's ungainly jump at the sixth seemed almost like desperate attention-seeking), advertisements on jockeys' outfits will receive official approval from the BHB within months. 'We are still hopeful that definitive guidelines will be available in March, but it is a very complex and technical area,' Lee Richardson, the Board's Marketing Director, said yesterday. 'But it is certainly going to happen.'

Nigel Payne, director of Chasing Promotions, is thinking big. 'One possibility is sponsorship of a whole yard,' Payne said, 'so all the owners can benefit.' Indeed they can. New tax rules allow owners to reclaim VAT on racing expenses, if they can show that their ownership involves a degree of 'commercial effort'. A logo on the saddle-cloth would be sufficient.

There will be problems, of course, and not just with starchy racegoers who like to see nothing on a jockey's breeches beyond an occasional grass stain. Corporate egos could be bruised. 'Obviously, you can't have the Hennessy Twiston-Davies stable winning the Martell Grand National,' Payne said, 'but we would hope to get around any conflicts.'

Llewellyn said: 'My biggest worry was that I might come off at the first, but really as soon as I jumped off I forgot all about it.

'It will help to bring money into racing, and sponsors will be happy about the coverage they get, as long as the jockey stays on all the way round.' What with win bonuses and penalty clauses, the idea may keep a new generation of lawyers in a living.

Further down the scale, the rules of product-branding may ensure that it is not just the leading stables which are affected. Big firms may want to be associated with regular winners, but who would want to be the struggling trainer who finds a marketing rep from Pedigree Chum on his doorstep?