Jockey Club Signs Five-Year Contract to Run Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border take Blenheim in 2017. Photo by Libby Law.

The fate of the UK’s SsangYong Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, which has long been run as British Eventing’s sole self-organised competition, has been secured after a bidding process that’s been ongoing throughout the latter half of 2020. From 2021, the event – which hosts a CCI4*-L alongside the prestigious CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds, will be run by the Jockey Club in an exciting first foray into eventing for the organisation.

A five-year contract has been signed for the running of the event, which was cancelled in 2020 as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with its classes relocated to Norfolk’s Burnham Market International, run by Musketeer Events – one of the expected frontrunners of the bidding process.

“The international horse trials is one of our most prestigious events, attracting world-class riders to compete in this iconic competition,” said Blenheim Palace Estates Director Roy Cox in a statement released this morning (December 1). “We are delighted its future has been secured and have every confidence the Jockey Club, with its rich history and wealth of experience, working alongside British Eventing is the perfect combination to ensure this great event, which contributes so much to the local area, continues to thrive.”

Sarah Bullimore rides Lilly Corrine during the Event Rider Masters finale at Blenheim. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

The Jockey Club, which was founded in 1750 and boasts Her Majesty the Queen as its patron, has considerable experience staging world-class competition: with over 340 fixtures in its remit, including industry stalwarts such as the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National, it’s the largest commercial group in racing, turning over an extraordinary £201.1 million in revenue each year.

Ian Renton, Regional Managing Director of the organisation, hopes that Blenheim’s proximity to Cheltenham – dubbed ‘the home of jump racing’ and responsible for an estimated £100 million annual boost to the local area – will allow for further opportunities to broaden eventing’s scope as a spectator sport.

“It truly is a great honour to be appointed to organise the Blenheim Palace Horse Trials for the next five years,” he said. “We look forward to working closely with Blenheim Palace and British Eventing to ensure the event has a fantastic future.

“As a company, we welcome nearly four million people a year to events at our venues and our team are excited to put on a fantastic show at Blenheim in keeping with the international prestige of both the horse trials and the palace itself.

“With he Home of Jump Racing just 40 miles away, I’m also confident there are economies of scale and cross-promotional opportunities from this partnership,” he continued. “Overall, we’re thrilled to be involved and thank the Blenheim Palace and British Eventing team for placing their faith in us.”

Piggy French and Brookfield Inocent win the CCI4*-L in 2019. Photo by William Carey.

Eventing first came to Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire seat of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, in 1990. That fledgling competition was won by Lucinda Fredericks on Just Jeremy, and by 1994, the young event had grown roots sufficient to host that year’s European Championships for Young Riders. In 2005, it stepped up to host the Senior European Championships, and in 2009 – following the event’s only cancellation prior to the pandemic – the much-heralded CCI4*-S class was introduced. In its eleven runnings, the class has produced an extraordinary roll of honour, with winners going on to success at the upper echelons – including five CCI5* victors. After some speculation this autumn that bids for the fixture included plans to potentially relocate the event, it’s a great relief to see it stay in situ at its home of three decades.

Jude Matthews, Chief Executive of British Eventing, said: “Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is a key fixture in the British Eventing calendar, showcasing some of the most talented horse and rider combinations in the world. The event has been established over many successful years and we look forward to working with the Jockey Club to continue this development and to potentially bring our sport to a wider audience.”

British Eventing’s decision to step back from organising the event – the only one it organises directly – came in August of this year to allow the body to “focus on the delivery of core sport.”

The 2021 renewal of the Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials is set to take place from September 15–19.