Edward Gillespie’s decision to step down from the post as Managing Director of Cheltenham, a position he has held for the past 32 years will have taken many by surprise. He told his bosses at Jockey Club Racecourses a couple of weeks ago, although the decision was not announced until yesterday.
He had mulled the idea over for 18 months or so, with the thought that at almost 60 years of age there might be one more challenge ahead of him. He was the guest on the Radio 3 Essential Classics programme during this year’s Festival and hinted there that a change of direction might not be too far away. He told presenter Rob Cowan that had he not found a career in racing he would have wanted to be an actor, travelling the world with his own company.
In the end, though, it was another of his favourite sports that provided the metaphor for his retirement. Gillespie, a regular cricket umpire, explained, “I worked out that by 2011 I’d done 96 Festival days, so I only needed a boundary to get to the ton. Thank goodness everything worked out well in March and I sneaked a single on the last day.”
Gillespie’s positive let’s get on and do it attitude is the major factor behind the transition of the genteel, bumbling old Cheltenham Steeplechase Company into a modern thriving business. The change to a four-day Festival, the introduction of a trials day each January, and the development of a clear focus for every meeting were outcomes of his approach to long term planning. Opening up the weighing room, stewards room and parade ring to the public at the October Showcase enabled racegoer to see behind the scenes at a meeting. But he was equally adept at handling unexpected emergencies, demonstrated to the full in 2008, when gales forced the cancellation of the second day of the meeting. Gillespie’s answer was simple: split those races between days three and four. They did, and handled all the additional challenges of stable room, catering and new race cards without a hitch.
Gillespie won’t be lost to Cheltenham. He’s already said that he will stay on until a successor is appointed, and it’s likely that he will be asked to oversee the next stage of development at the course.
Gillespie says of his time there, “It’s been a privilege to manage Cheltenham for 32 years, and striving for success has been at the centre of everything I’ve done in that time.” And it’s been a privilege for me and thousands of others to come to Cheltenham and enjoy the superb racing and facilities the course offers year after year. Thanks Edward.