Sangster spins wheel of fortune

Sue Montgomery reports on a sponsorship deal reached between a casino chain and a powerful racehorse owner
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The Independent Online
Robert Sangster, one of racing's shrewdest operators, clinched the sport's most valuable sponsorship so far when he signed a pounds 500,000 deal yesterday with Grosvenor Casinos. For the next three years - starting on Diamond Day at Ascot on 27 July - the famous blue and green Sangster silks will carry the logo of Britain's largest casino operators.

It sounds like a gambling marriage made in heaven, and both parties expressed themselves content after taking their vows at Manton, the historic Wiltshire headquarters of Sangster's Swettenham Stud operation. ''I reckon I spend pounds 5 million a year running my operation worldwide and, while sponsorship is not absolutely necessary to carry on, with prize money in this country returning only 26 per cent this will certainly help.''

Fittingly, the deal was announced on the second anniversary of the British Horseracing Board's innovative Sponsorship Framework for Racehorse Owners, pushing the amount raised to more than pounds 5m.

Sangster, a member of Grosvenor's flagship London club, the Clermont, for more than 30 years, has been out hustling for a backer from the moment it was permitted, approaching several companies including Cartier, Piaget and Courage. "We came close once, but Grosvenor Casinos gelled immediately. It's an ideal link-up," he said.

Racing and casinos have the same aura of money and glamour, and many of the same patrons. The four London-based Grosvenor gambling clubs have an overseas membership of nearly three-quarters, of which a large proportion are eminent Emirates nationals, and the group has already sponsored racing at Jebel Ali in Dubai.

David Boden, Grosvenor's managing director, is delighted that some of the Turf's mystique is to be dispensed in his clients' direction. For his investment he will, most essentially in an industry (though one undergoing deregulation) where advertising is illegal, get his company's name and maroon-and-gold livery prominently displayed on racecourses and television.

But there will be further involvement through the naming of 10 of next year's two-year-olds with the Grosvenor prefix, a monthly Manton bulletin and, in the future, sponsorship of racedays.

Boden, whose company has 32 casinos in England and Wales, employing 3,200 staff, and with more than one million members, said: ''We wanted to be associated with events and personalities over a long period of time, because this then creates a sequence of events for our casino customers to follow. We don't just want to use John Reid [Manton's main jockey] as an advertising hoarding, we want to be involved more than that.

''We did approach Newcastle United, but we decided we wanted to be involved with the best in sport, not the second best.''

Sangster currently has 65 horses in training, 62 of them with Peter Chapple- Hyam at Manton, two with Barry Hills and one with Lynda Ramsden. The newly- sponsored horses include Saturday's Ascot winner Astor Place, a St Leger prospect, and the first Grosvenor Casinos runner may be a ride for Chapple- Hyam's wife Jane in the ladies' race at Ascot.

Sangster said: ''It would be nice to run one in the King George, but I won't do it just for the sake of it.'' He added, gallantly: ''I have had 97 individual Group One winners so far. I look forward to bringing up the 100 for the new sponsors.''

Court Of Honour, who missed Royal Ascot because of an injured tendon, is unlikely to be the one, as he is being prepared for a tilt at the Melbourne Cup in November and the deal does not cover Australia.

The colt's campaign will be geared towards the great handicap, where he may be joined by another Manton-trained Italian Derby runner-up, Backdrop. Chapple-Hyam said: ''Court of Honour could go to Germany in July, or the Irish St Leger. But whatever happens, he will go to Melbourne. He is the ideal type of horse for that race.''