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Gillespie declares at Cheltenham after an unbeaten century

30 April 2012

THE Jockey Club today begins the search for a successor to Edward Gillespie as managing director at Cheltenham, while the man who has spearheaded the racecourse's success since 1980 waits to discover what new job opportunities will turnup.

Gillespie, 60 on July 31, is stepping down after having completed a century of festival days in charge when the meeting closed last month.

He made his decision known to Jockey Club senior management a fortnight agobut revealed the idea had been hatched 18 months previously.

"I thought if I could get myself organised and everything went well at the festival in 2012, that would be the time to go," he said yesterday. "If I'd started the job aged 42, I'd have stayed until I was 65, but I started aged 27, so by going at 60 I thought I could see what else there was to do over the next few years."

Keen cricketer Gillespie added: "Then I worked out that after 2011, I'd done 96 festival days, so I needed only a boundary to get to the ton. Thank goodness everything went well in March and I sneaked a single on the last day!

"It was extremely satisfying that Gold Cup day also marked our highest-ever attendance as the climax to a tremendous season."

He continued: "It's been a privilege to manage Cheltenham for 32 years, and striving for the continuedsuccess of this special place has been at the centre of everything I've done in that time.

"While part of me feels I could carry on for ever, I'm conscious my sporting heroes have bowed out at the top of theirgame, carrying their bats, so to speak.

"I've been here for a long time, so I'd love to get involved in other projects within sport or business over the next six to ten years.

"I've nothing in mind. I'll just wait to see if anyone gets in touch. I'm irritatingly fit and don't want to vegetate."

Gillespie has been involved with various sports, leisure and cultural activities in Gloucestershire since his arrival from an initial six-year stint in racecourse management at Kempton and Sandown, and is unlikely to be short of offers.

However, Jockey Club chief executive Simon Bazalgette stressed he would not belost to Cheltenham, or the racecourse group, saying: "Edward will help in the process to appoint a successor and when the time comes for him to stand aside, he will remain with the group as a consultant.

"He'sbeen seen as a mentor of managers and there's a lot he can bring in that direction.

"We'll definitely commit to using his experience and talent on various projects, including the next stage of redevelopment atCheltenham." Bazalgette added: "We've known that at a certain stage Edward would want to stand down, but we never discussed it. When he came to us with his decision, there was no point even thinking of asking him to reconsider.

We knew he wouldn't change his mind.

"This year was a particular high point for the festival and I'm sure Edward thought the stars were in alignment and it was a good time to step down."

The search for Gillespie's successor has added importance, since as well as managing Cheltenham, the appointee will be regional director with responsibility for Exeter, Warwick and Wincanton under a new Jockey Club Racecourses management structure (see story, facing page).

JCR group managing director Paul Fisher, who expects the net to be cast worldwide, said: "We'll be interviewing the most talented people from racing and the wider sports and leisure industries, including candidates from within the group.

"We'll leave no stone unturned to ensure the end of an era is also the start of a bright new chapter for Cheltenham."

Confirming that, while he had managed his last festival meeting, he was in no rush to leave, Gillespie said: "I'll continue in my position until my successor is appointed and then provide support for as long as it takes to achieve the smoothest transition for the racecourse.

"We've built a great team who will ensure the racecourse goes from strength to strength, as it always has done as part of the Jockey Club.

"I'll very much miss working with my colleagues, as well as looking after our customers, who have made Cheltenham the sporting Mecca it is today."

Gillespie, who admits to having been bitten by the racing bug at the age of six, joined Kempton and Sandown as a trainee manager in 1974, shortly after graduating from York University. He was handed the roles on a solo basis before the end of the year.

Since moving to Cheltenham in 1980, he has overseen £80 million of investment at jump racing's premier track, including extensive grandstand rebuilding and creation of the Centaur conference venue. He was also responsible for adding a fourth day to the festival.

However, Cheltenham has not been his sole racecourse responsibility. When in 1994 the Jockey Club bought the United Racecourses Ltd portfolio of Epsom, Kempton and Sandown from the Levy Board through its subsidiary Racecourse Holdings Trust, Gillespie found himself once again managing the first two tracks at which he worked.

He held the URL managing director's job for two years, until the courses were given individual identities within RHT, which meant that during the period he was responsible for stage-managing the Derby, Cheltenham Gold Cup, King George VI Chase and Eclipse Stakes.

Cheltenham chairman Robert Waley-Cohen said: "Over the past 30 years the festival has developed into one of the great British sporting occasions, and that is largely down to the energy, enthusiasm and expertise of Edward Gillespie.

"He has put his heart and soul into Cheltenham racecourse during that time and the profile and popularity that it now enjoys is a testament to Edward's skill in understanding what people want and developing a team that can deliver it.

"That team is now in great shape to continue the success he has engineered, and everyone at Cheltenham and throughout the racing industry is immensely grateful for all he has done."

Next Cheltenham MD Paddy Power: 4 Simon Claisse, 9-2 Michael Prosser, Richard Thomas, Dickon White, 6 Peter McNeile, 8 Barney Clifford, 10 WilliamDerby, Amy Starkey, 12 Julian Thick, Adam Waterworth, 16 bar.

EDWARD GILLESPIE Factfile Born July 31, 1952 Education Graduated from York University with politics degree, 1973 - "I chose York because it had the most racecourses near it" Racecourse career Manager Kempton and Sandown, 1974, after short period as trainee, and later part of team managing Derby meeting at Epsom; general manager Cheltenham, 1980, MD from 1988, which also included MD at Warwick until 1986; MD United Racecourses Ltd (Epsom, Kempton, Sandown) when bought by Jockey Club, 1994-96 Other appointments Former RCA director; Jockey Club Racecourses director since 2008; chairman BHA jump racing development group; lifetime achievement award at Sports Industry Awards 2011 Hidden ambition "I'd like to be one of those Laurence Olivier sort of characters with my own acting company taking me around the world." Director Magazine, December 2011

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