Arena boss moves to run Cheltenham

Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) has completed the appointments of four regional directors and is now ready to begin implementing the new structure for its operation announced some months ago.

The successful candidates include two promotions from the current operational side of JCR and one from the management arm. However, what many would regard as the plum job amongst the four has gone externally, to the surprise of most observers of the industry.

Ian Renton, currently managing director of Arena Leisure, becomes the new South West Director, and will pick up the baton of Cheltenham supreme, as well as having responsibility for Exeter, Warwick and Wincanton. Renton isn’t unfamiliar with his new patch; he was a trainee manager at Cheltenham from 1985 to 1988, where his mentor was retiring course director Edward Gillespie, and also had a spell as clerk of the course at Wincanton.

After his appointment Renton said, “Having spent 11 successful years at Arena Leisure and assisted with its integration with Northern Racing, I am delighted to take on the role of South West regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses. This is an exciting opportunity to be involved in the further development of Cheltenham Racecourse, and to contribute to the wider racecourse group."

Renton should be installed at Cheltenham in time for the October Showcase meeting, which kicks off the new season there. Gillespie was pleased at the appointment, and said he was paving the way for a smooth handover by ensuring the Cheltenham staff were “in no doubt about my enthusiasm that Ian is the right man for the job.”

The three other new directors will take up their new positions next month. The Eastern area confirms the rapid rise of Amy Starkey in the JCR management hierarchy. She only moved from Kempton to Newmarket earlier this year, and now picks up Huntingdon, Market Rasen and Nottingham.

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Commenting on her success Starkey set to her priorities. She said, “A quarter of all the UK’s racecourses are part of The Jockey Club, so it makes complete sense to introduce a new operating structure that encourages close working between courses in your region. I’m delighted to be appointed regional director for the east and believe all four fantastic courses in our region can benefit from increasing collaboration, with British racing enjoying the results long term.”

Rupert Trevelyan, who takes on the London region, is the second field promotion. He’ll be adding Sandown and Kempton to his current duties at Epsom. He wanted to give racing a higher profile in the capital, a big challenge in the wake of the inevitable increase in participation in other sports following the Olympics. He said, “I’m delighted to have been made the London regional director after three years within Jockey Club Racecourses at Epsom Downs. Racing is a real passion and I want to do everything I can to help promote the sport and our fantastic racecourses in the London region. By combining the resources of these three courses, we can grow the popularity of racing in and around our sports mad city.”

For John Baker in the North West, promotion means a return to field operations after a spell as group director of field operations for JCR. It’s his home turf though, as he was brought up there and had seven years managing Carlisle racecourse. He may find it hard to keep hold of two of his general managers as Julian Thick (Aintree) and Dickon White (Haydock) were both strong contenders for the South West post, and clearly have their sights set higher than their current posts.

Setting out the business case for the new structure, a JCR press release said, “The new approach is designed to take collaboration between the Jockey Club’s racecourses to a new level, making it easier to share best practice, promote a consistent set of core values around the Jockey Club brand throughout the group and increase the effectiveness of sales and marketing to customers regionally and reduce costs.”

To achieve that, JCR had carried out the most extensive recruitment exercise ever, according to group chief executive Simon Balzagette. He said, “We will never stand still when we know there are opportunities to do more for British racing.”