Cheltenham Racecourse MD steps down after 32 years
FILLING THE shoes of Edward Gillespie – ‘Mr Cheltenham’ – will be a huge task, writes Danny Hall.
Gillespie announced on Tuesday that he was to step down as Managing Director of Cheltenham Racecourse after 32 years in charge.
Few have held on to such a high-profile post in sports administration for so long – and so successfully. As befits one of his other roles – chairman of the board at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham – Gillespie is a trouper and he knows when to leave the stage.
He presided over his 100th Cheltenham Festival fixture at the recent showpiece meeting and it coincided propitiously with a victory for one of his great friends in the sport, Jonjo O’Neill, in the Gold Cup. Under Gillespie’s guiding hand, the Cheltenham Festival has become one of the greatest sporting events on the planet. The Gold Cup day crowd of 70,458 was a record for the Festival. He masterminded the switch to a four-day Festival and introduced the cross country chases which have become such a feature.
One of the dilemmas for his replacement will be whether to conclude the big meeting on a Saturday. “I'm 60 years old in July and, while part of me feels I could carry on forever, I'm conscious that my sporting heroes have bowed out at the top of their game,” said Gotherington-based Gillespie.
“We've built a great team at Cheltenham who will ensure the racecourse goes from strength to strength.
“I want to make sure the handover goes as smoothly as possible but I am not going away. I will act as a consultant on the next major development project at the course.
“For the last 18 months I have been thinking is there a moment when I can leave? And Jonjo winning the Gold Cup felt like the pinnacle of what we are about.
“Cheltenham is unique in sport. There is a complete social mix and it does not feel as regimented as other sporting venues. And, of course, the horses rule.”
Top jockey Ruby Walsh tweeted: ‘Edward Gillespie has made Cheltenham the ultimate place to compete’, while Robert Waley-Cohen, Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse, 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.”
Gillespie is also currently chair of Gloucester Cathedral Council and the Summerfield Charitable Trust. Keen on amateur dramatics, cricket and a Kingsholm season ticket holder, he will now have more time to indulge his many passions.
As for his next challenge, he said: “I will now see what else is out there.” He is not likely to be short of offers.