How our racecourse outshone the rest

Leicester Racecourse became an essential aspect of community life thanks to general manager Rob Bracken – the guy you can also thank for Christmas in September – we look

at how he did it

Rob Bracken, 50, has worked in hospitality all over the country since 1988 working for the likes of Twycross Zoo and Merlin Entertainment, and became a General Manager at the age of 24; a position he still holds today. He has spent his career reading market trends and consumer habits so that businesses could best supply their customer’s demand before they even demanded it. Always one step ahead of the game, Rob’s expertise was recognised by some of the biggest retailers of the 90s and naughties. Working Compass Group, the trendsetter ran 500 Sainsbury’s and Woolworth’s restaurants.

Rob said: “I was doing 50,000 miles a year in travel so it was full on. I was able to make a difference to all these places but at the same time it was limited.”

Before taking a year-long break and retiring in the South of France with his wife due to the exhausting role, Leicester’s most loved general manager can’t resist but take the blame for starting something that many people feel slightly irritated by. Remember when shops started selling Christmas in September? It’s hard to put your finger on when exactly but it must have been around the early 2000s when Rob was running around the country developing Compass Group’s clients.

“Woolworths started selling Christmas meals and mince pies as early as October and I have to say that was all my fault,” he teased. “So when the competition saw what Woolworths was doing the rest of them joined in.”

According to 2015 research, 10,000 mince pies were consumed every minute during the Christmas period – Rob spotted the Brit’s liking for a mince pie years ago and made sure they were available for us early on in the year.

He still applies his clever marketing methods to Leicester Racecourse today. He retired from his retirement not long after it began and was eventually introduced to the racecourse. “It was shabby, the food wasn’t good, it hadn’t been decorated in probably 20 years. It needed some TLC. I took it on because it wasn’t a large multi-national business; it was a family business that needed some love.”

In 2013 Rob set to work improving the venue by examining Trip Advisor reviews, surveying the public, redecorating, and restructuring the catering with a new menu and chef. “When we knew we’d got it right we started selling it. Sales went through the roof and so the growth in attendance was incredible. We were, and still are, outperforming all other racecourses in the region. That’s because we listen to people and make changes. And now Ladies Day is the envy of them all.”

When Rob took on the racecourse, Ladies Day attendance reached up to 5000. This year however, 13,001 people came through the gates and 3000 enjoyed a sit down meal. There were 15 food vendors serving everything from pizza to paella, 25 bars, and 3000 empty bottles of Prosecco and 40,000 pints of Fosters guzzled.

“People wanted more choice so that’s what we gave them. Improvement is not about making more money; it’s about listening to the public. I always ask our guests what they thought of the event for feedback, just as I’ve asked who people would like to see perform at the next Ladies Day. This year All Saints were fantastic and we’ve had no end of requests for next year from Olly Murs to Human League – all I can say is I won’t be ruling anything out!”

The general manager has recorded Facebook Live’s, which have received thousands of views and has brought many more events to the venue cementing Leicester Racecourse as a major part of the community. And with 31 race meets a year, it’s one of the busiest grass tracks in the country. With the belief that there’s always room for improvement, Rob’s future changes will include a new entrance building to bring it up to date, a new grandstand, and a tenant for the golf course area hiding next door. “We have Swift Caravan Club using the golf course next year and I’ve been thinking of doing Tough Mudder’s on there and all sorts.”

So watch out for even more fun and frolics to come to Leicester Racecourse!