x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

'Racing has been influenced by Dubai'

q&a Charles Barnett is the chief executive of Ascot Racecourse in the UK, which hosts Royal Ascot.

Charles Barnett is impressed with how racing is developing in the UAE.
Charles Barnett is impressed with how racing is developing in the UAE.

Charles Barnett is the chief executive of Ascot Racecourse in the UK, which hosts Royal Ascot, one of the most prestigious and flamboyant horse race meetings in the world. He lives in the UK.

We're here exhibiting at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition. Because there has been such tremendous support for racing in the UK from here in the Emirates, it's important that we recognise that and that we're seen to be supporting plans they have here. It also gives us an opportunity to enhance our relationship. We're looking for partners who want to ally their brand to us and this is the part of the world where people might be interested in doing that.

I was last here about 35 years ago. I used to work in shipping and insurance and was here quite a lot. We had a lot of trouble before the ports here were operating properly, so most things were coming over land. I was often sent off to see what had happened to it all, and I went to Tehran, then flew back and went from Qatar to Jeddah, sleeping out in the desert; it was a lot of fun.

It is extremely interesting what's happening with the development of racing here. It's a shame that Godolphin (Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's stable) didn't have a great last season in the UK, but the quality here is improving all the time. A lot of people come here now for the racing, in the same way they come to the UK.

I haven't actually because I used to work at Aintree, so with the Grand National happening around the same time, it was difficult.

It's going to be extraordinary, and to have a race track of that quality is going to have an important influence on worldwide racing.

We solved the problem of viewing and we've begun to get a handle on how the grandstand works, which is quite difficult. And also people were used to the way it was, so that takes a few years for them to acclimatise. They're starting to find their way about now, though. Luckily we had lovely weather this year and the racing was unbelievable, as it always is.

Absolutely. A lot of people go to Royal Ascot for the pageantry and the social aspect - and the racing it ancillary. Equally, a lot of people go for the racing. We get fantastic support from the royal family; the queen is very interested in racing and lots of the royal family like to come.

It's very important. The queen loves coming, particularly to the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July, which is named after her parents. There is a lot of international interest in our queen and we have more international visitors to Royal Ascot that any other meeting in the UK.

We've got big debts. We spent £220 million (Dh1,379 million) on the refurbishment so we have to pay that back. We've got some big things happening in 2011, which will be our 300th anniversary, as well as the queen's diamond jubilee. Then in 2012, we'll be hosting an event right before the Olympic games in London.

If you're looking at who's been the most influential over the last ten years, you've got to say the Dubai ruling family. As well as being heavily involved themselves, they've introduced a lot of other people from the Middle East. They have fantastic studs where they breed amazing horses and they've developed the international movement of horses in a way that probably wouldn't have happened without them.

I think Johnny Murtagh is an extremely good jockey but Frankie Dettori's connection with Ascot is incredible. In 1996, he rode every winner on a seven-race card at Ascot and he's a great supporter. So you'd have to say he's pretty important to flat racing in the UK.