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Ascot’s £150m grandstand starts big pay out

With high fashion and hats hitting the Berkshire countryside for Royal Ascot this week, the racecourse’s investment in a £150m grandstand and new meeting and hospitality facilities is beginning to pay off, as it reports its best financial year in 10 years. Ascot is on course to beat 2014’s pre-tax profits of £3.1m, with revenues jumping from £46.6m to £68m. Revenues at the track soared 45%. The five-day Royal meeting accounts for 75% of the course’s revenues, of which a third comes from catering. Ascot has 300 meeting rooms and ability to cater for up to 3,000 for an exclusive event. The racecourse used to cater via concessions that paid a commission. Now it is all in-house through an 80-20 joint venture with event caterers Sodexo. Chris John, managing director of Sodexo Prestige, told CN: “We’ve been working with Ascot for 16 years and the relationship has developed into a great partnership. We constantly review our offer to ensure we bring the latest innovation and world-class standards of hospitality to customers.” Guy Henderson, who replaced Charles Barnett as Ascot chief executive this year, says the business is confident of being able to service the grandstand debt. He believes it is all about delivering quality. “If you improve the standards, you improve the margins,” he said. More capital projects are in the pipeline, including a five-star hotel and possibly more permanent stands to replace the £1m Ascot spends a year on temporary structures. Last year, QIPCO a private investment company owned by Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad al-Thani and his brother Sheikh Hamad (the prime movers behind the Qatar Racing) became Ascot’s first Official Partner and that relationship has been extended this year to run until 2024. The deal is part of a £50m QIPCO sponsorship of British horse racing.