British horseracing's newly created premier flat racing series announced a two-year title sponsorship Wednesday with Qipco Holding WLL, the Qatar-based private investment company, in a move that organizers say spotlights the commercial viability of racing's new initiative. The deal makes Qipco Holding title sponsor of the British Champions Series, which encompasses 35 leading flats races including the Epsom Derby, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St Leger, and official partner of British Champions Day, the new climax to the flat racing season.
Although no financial details of the contract were disclosed, the partnership was described as "a significant and substantial investment in British racing" by Karl Oliver, chief executive of the British Champions Series.
"It's a great vote of confidence in the series," he said. "The concept is only as good as the commercial reality and our business plan was very much predicated on a successful sponsorship deal.
"I think we've demonstrated [that] it's a very credible commercial proposition."
The British Champions Series was launched last September in an attempt to broaden the appeal of British racing and match the profile achieved by the sport's top international meetings, such as the Breeders' Cup in the U.S. and France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
In all, the 2011 series features seven of the world's top 12 races based on official international classifications and is worth around £13 million ($21.2 million) in prize money.
The £3 million finale at Ascot, which encompasses the Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, will be the richest raceday ever in Britain.
Racing officials hope the series will give the British flat racing season a more clearly defined structure and revive public interest in the sport.
Global broadcast rights for the British Champions Day on Oct. 15 were bought by the British Broadcast Corp. last December for an undisclosed fee.
"We want to raise the international profile of Qipco and the British Champions Series provides the perfect platform for the company to reach a wider audience," Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, the chief executive of Qipco Holding, said in a statement.
Some have criticized the new series for moving historic races from their established positions in the calendar, while others are skeptical of its success after the failure of a similar initiative known as the Sovereign Series in 2008. But series organizers stress that these sponsorship and broadcast fees represent a new investment in the sport, which wouldn't have been made without the changes to the calendar.
"It's new money and it won't only benefit top racing but will feed down through the whole sport," said Oliver, the series chief executive. "People are slowly recognizing that what we are doing is in the best interests of British racing."
The partnership with Qipco also signals Qatar's rise as a major player in European racing. The Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club signed a 10-year sponsorship with the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last June, while Qipco's portfolio of interests includes Qatar Bloodstock, which owns the stallion Makfi, winner of last year's 2000 Guineas.