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Racing is full of great traditions and characters. One who has become one of those vital fixtures in the sport is Rod Fabricius, the MD at Goodwood Racecourse. He steps down later this year. Simon Irwin went to meet him...
Racing is full of great traditions and characters. One who has become one of those vital fixtures in the sport is Rod Fabricius, the MD at Goodwood Racecourse. He steps down later this year. Simon Irwin went to meet him
Rod Fabricius was deep in planning for his 28th and final Festival meeting when I met him at his office at the base of the Sussex Stand with glorious views over the South Downs and the final furlong of the course.
He came to Goodwood from Lingfield Park racecourse in October 1982, after passing his interview with the Duke of Richmond. Appropriately his answer to the question: What newspaper do you read? was The Sporting Life the then Bible of horse racing rather than the Daily Telegraph or The Church Times which His Grace might have expected.
Rod arrived during a big period of change at Goodwood, the parade ring had been moved, the March Stand had just been completed in 1980 and there were plans for further developments including the Charlton Stand in 1989 and the Sussex Stand in 1990. The weighing room was rebuilt and the paddock remodelled in 2000.
Since his arrival, the number of racedays at the course has increased by more than 50 per cent from 15 to 23 today.
Rod is part of a generation that came into racing in the 1970s when the sport was looking to reinvent itself by bringing in new, more commercially-minded people. He started as an apprentice clerk of the course at Haydock Park and Chepstow, two racecourses that shared a common clerk of the course, John Hughes, in July 1972.
He was fresh from his microbiology course at London University but racing was already in his blood.
I knew that I was hoping to make a career in something related to thoroughbred horseracing. I wasnt close to working with horses and I wasnt pursuing a veterinary degree, so I wasnt going to be a trainer, a breeder or an owner and that led me to look at the administrative side of racing.
He caught the bug young, going to point to point race meetings in his native Worcestershire during school holidays. It was the excitement, the atmosphere, the colour, the thrill of watching the horses race that first triggered this love of the sport and it continues to be my abiding enjoyment.
It combines this heady mix of nervous excitement and the thrill of the chase with a little bit of theatre because the people who go racing are a complete cross-section of society. We share a common interest and its a very colourful occasion whether its a days flat racing here on top of the Downs or a days jumping down the road at Fontwell Park.
After Haydock and Chepstow, he followed John Hughes to Lingfield Park, then owned by Ladbrokes, as racecourse manager in 1974.
During this time Rod became involved in the running of the Grand National meeting at Aintree and this continued even after joining Goodwood.
Now Rod sees the sport seeking to reinvent itself again with the Racing for Change group looking to attract new audiences.
Goodwood was one of the first courses in the country to try offering free tickets online with its Garden Party meeting in May when thousands of people enjoyed a days racing for no entry charge.
He said: We now have a database of people and are marketing to them. Hopefully those who did come will have enjoyed themselves and they will come back again.
Rod was a key player in the setting up of the Racecourse Media Group, the consortium of racecourse owners, which handles the increasingly valuable media rights for racing that pump millions of pounds back into the sport.
During his time he has worked very closely with a team that he describes as his triumvirate.
If Ive achieved anything at Goodwood, it is only as a result of a team effort and is down mainly to the support that I have received from some key members of staff whove been with me a very considerable length of time.
These staff members are: John Thompson, racecourse manager; Seamus Buckley, clerk of the course; and Sarah Vigneault, who until recently was in charge of hospitality.
His son Balthazar has followed him into racing and runs Fitzdares, a bespoke bookmakers, in London. His wife Debbie and daughter Emily, who is an online jewellery designer, enjoy racing but have managed to escape being entirely swallowed by its undoubted allure.
For himself, Rod has no plans to leave racing when he steps down later this year and wants to stay involved in the sport in some way but those plans are still in the making.
He summed up one of the sports abiding attractions to him: At the end of the day whether youre eating your fish and chips out of a newspaper or eating smoked salmon, the thrill of backing a winner or commiserating over a loser, were all equal when it comes to the turf.