This morning Richard Thomas will receive a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chester, for his outstanding contribution to the city of Chester as Chief Executive of the Chester Race Company Ltd.
Richard Thomas, Chief Executive of Chester Race Company, having taken up the helm in August 2000. Richard joined the Royal Marines straight from school and after five years as a military man, began his career in the racing industry, having worked at four separate racecourses over his career to date. After short stints at Aintree and Huntingdon Racecourses, he became Managing Director of Haydock Racecourse where he improved profitability from £200,000 to £1.2M in just seven years.
He joined Chester Racecourse as Chief Executive in 2000 and quickly acquired Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse as a sister jumps course, broadening the racing offering under the company umbrella. In 2003 Richard masterminded the development and project management of a new hotel on the racecourse footprint, under the Holiday Inn Express franchise. To further develop the racing operation, in 2006 Richard relocated the stables from the Linenhall site and built a whole new facility behind the railway arches. In 2008, under his management, the Racecourse opened its first venture in the mainstream leisure market, Restaurant 1539 and built the Pavilion Suite, a multi-functioning conferencing and events space and that still remains Chester’s largest.
More leisure venues were added to the portfolio in 2012, with the acquisition of a bar building in the city centre (off Bridge Street), which is now known as Commonhall Street Social. The White Horse pub was completed in April 2013 and later extended by a conservatory in November to accommodate demand. Most recently, Chester Racecourse has acquired the popular wine bar, Ginger, located near the Town Hall to add to the Company’s Restaurant Group.
Chester Bet, the Race Company’s on-course betting operation was launched in 2012 following the sale of the tote. This move empowered racecourses to take control of their own betting operations and in a move to ensure betting revenue would remain within the Race Company and be reinvested back into the Industry. Chester Bet was first launched at Bangor on Dee Racecourse on April 21 2012 and was the first day since 1931 that the tote had not operated on a racecourse.
Chester Bet was launched at Chester Racecourse on the first day of the 2012 May Festival and, by managing its own betting function, Chester can now facilitate/service ‘sports & racing events’ on non-race days. Since its launch, Chester Bet/Bangor Bet on-course turnover is in excess of £14.5 million with over 1.5million bets processed with the win margin exceeding expectations.
At the end of 2009, the Race Company created its own in-house catering division, bringing all on-site catering under the control of Chester Race Company. The division grew quickly and a successful launch into the wider market place was initiated in 2014, under the newly branded Horseradish. Horseradish has established affiliations with prominent venues in the North West, including the prestigious National Trust property, Speke Hall and Liverpool Cathedral. Horseradish’s wide remit includes weddings, dinners and conferences and it has also established itself as the go-to catering partner for large consumer events, such as RHS Shows at Chatsworth and Tatton Park, as well as Wales Rally GB.
Over the years, Richard has encouraged and pioneered new and exciting events and brought new leisure attractions to the city, such as the mini music festival Chester Rocks and the children’s Christmas experience Winter Wonderland. Chester Racecourse also hosts two polo tournaments annually and has had the privilege of hosting International Polo Tournaments, where on three occasions Richard has welcomed a royal competitor to the field, when he and the Duke of Cambridge played against one another in the Audi Royal Polo Challenge.
Since joining the Race Company in 2000, Richard has more than doubled the number of race meetings held each season, while maintaining and developing facilities which keep Chester and Bangor Racecourses at the forefront of leisure offerings.
Based on the forward thinking and innovative approach taken by Richard’s team, the Racecourse was recognised as a Showcase Champion at the industry’s annual awards in 2013, where excellent and innovation across British Racing is celebrated. More recently, Chester has been recognised within the industry for its Owners’ and Trainers’ Experience, having been awarded the top prize by both the Racecourse Association and Racehorse Owners Association in 2016. Richard and his team’s commitment to providing the best possible racing experience for owners and trainers led to the introduction of the innovative Appearance Money Scheme in 2016, whereby Chester Racecourse committed to paying £400 (increased to £500 in 2017) for every horse that ran. A scheme like this had not been rolled out on such a large scale at any other course before and was greatly received as a pioneering step forward by the industry as a whole.
Richard’s commitment to the continued improvement of facilities and offering for Owners and Trainers is reflected in the standard and number of horses ran at Chester. The Boodles May Festival in 2017 was a huge success and the three day prestigious meeting produced the winner of not only the Investec Derby, but also the Investec Oaks. Wings of Eagle who finished second in the MBNA Chester Vase went on to win the Derby and ran with distinction in the Irish Derby. Enable, the winner of the Cheshire Oaks, has now won the Investec Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George and Yorkshire Oaks and most recently the Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. This filly is surely the best horse seen on the Roodee for many years.
Under Richard’s leadership, the company has grown both in size and strength from little more than a dozen permanent staff back in 2000 to an employer of over 100 permanent staff today. On top of this, Chester Race Company is an employer of thousands of casual employees annually in the events and leisure business. His leadership has transformed Chester Race Company into a dynamic, diverse and forward-thinking privately owned leisure company and hospitality business that has successfully grown from £4m to £30m turnover with average season race attendances hitting 290,000.
Richard Thomas said: “I am delighted to accept this award from The University of Chester. The city of Chester is rightly proud to have the University at its heart and its continued growth and success is vital to the city. I am honoured to have this connection to the University through this award.”