Doncaster’s famous St Leger Festival faces losing its headline sponsor Ladbrokes due to a nightmare calendar clash.
The significant sponsorship deal is at risk after 2014 because one of Ireland’s biggest races has been put in the diary for the same weekend.
Doncaster Racecourse’s owners and Ladbrokes are now seeking urgent talks with the British Horseracing Association to sort out the headache.
Mike Dillon, director of public relations at Ladbrokes, said: “We are not blaming the Irish for trying to promote their racing, but for the BHA to know what was being planned and then not to consult the stakeholders is just downright bad manners.
“We are obliged to view the way the race is treated. We have always looked at the big picture for racing and, if the St Leger is treated with reckless abandon, maybe we are investing in the wrong place.”
Tony Kelly, managing director of Arena Racing Company which owns Doncaster Racecourse, said: “We were disappointed with the news the proposed Irish Champions Day clashes directly with the St Leger - and in particular the lack of engagement from the British Horseracing Authority.
“We, the executive of Doncaster Racecourse, and Ladbrokes will seek urgent talks with the British Horseracing Association to determine how we and they can ensure Britain’s oldest Classic maintains its position of pivotal importance in the UK’s fixture list.”
Both Ladbrokes and ARC are ‘furious’ with the BHA for allowing the two high-profile events to be held on the same weekend from next year, without direct consultation of affected parties.
The St Leger is currently Ladbrokes’ biggest racing sponsorship and the betting firm has supported the event since 2005. It is currently in the second year of a three-year partnership deal.
A BHA spokesman said: “At this stage we have provided Horse Racing Ireland, through the European Pattern Committee, with in-principle support for creating a major festival of racing in Ireland in September from 2014 onwards.
“However, we have also said there are a few matters of detail within the application about which we have some concerns and, within the timespan that we have been afforded to respond, we are not in a position to sign off the entire race programme.
“The racecourses which might be affected have been informed, and asked for their feedback and any concerns to be raised before this is discussed further by the Flat Racing Committee and subsequently the Board.”
Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Our aim in staging an Irish Champions Weekend is to showcase Irish flat racing and to provide a worthy climax to the Irish flat racing season, attracting a major international audience to Ireland.
“The second weekend in September is the ideal date to stage the Irish Champions Weekend as it fits in best with the European Pattern.
“All the European Racing Authorities involved in the European Pattern Committee were consulted on our plans to create an Irish Champions Weekend, including the British Horseracing Authority.
“The Doncaster St Leger meeting always clashes with a major Irish race meeting and has clashed with either the Irish St Leger or the Irish Champion Stakes meeting going back as far as 1991.”