Baden-Baden Back With A Bang


Stephan Buchner of Baden Galopp | Emma Berry


BADEN-BADEN, Germany–The racecourse at Baden-Baden bounced back into life eight days ago with the start of the Grosse Woche under the ownership of a new company, Baden Galopp.

Based just outside the famous German spa town at Iffezheim, the sweeping turf track with a stunning backdrop of the hazy hills of the Black Forest, had not been used for 10 months, and its first of four days of racing began in damp conditions on August 29. But by the time the final two days arrived, with four group races staged on 11- and 12-race cards on the first weekend of September, temperatures had soared and the festival feeling was well and truly back. 

A successful week was much to the relief and delight of the racecourse's new manager Stephan Buchner, who with Peter Gaul has headed the team at Iffezheim since April 1. The former ownership company Baden Racing stepped down last year. The new Baden Galopp has a 10-year lease at the course with the option to extend that arrangement every five years, up to 20 years. The auction company BBAG, which is based at the same complex and which staged its main yearling sale last Friday, is also now a stake-holder in the racecourse.

“It's a new company but four people responsible for the track and housing have stayed on,” explained Buchner, who has been involved in racecourse management for more than two decades, at Mannheim, Hoppegarten and Leipzig.

He continued, “Patricia Rotering is my left and right hand and Seline Zindler looks after the event management, and you need the locals because they know everything, the people on the track and the people in the office. I am very proud of our team.”

That team is responsible not just for the racecourse but also the training centre, which is currently home to nine trainers and approximately 130 horses with plans for expansion.

“Our goal is to have 150 to 200 horses because we completely renewed the training track and I think right now it is one of the best training tracks I've seen,” said Buchner.

And he is more qualified than some racecourse managers to make such a claim as Buchner is also very much involved in racing in a hands-on sense, as a permit-holder trainer and daily exercise rider of the 8-year-old Aga Khan-bred Kashani (Ire) (Manduro {Ger}), a winner at Miesau in July.

He added, “I've ridden my own horses for 30 years so I know many racecourses and training tracks. We have put in a special kind of sand for the training track and a new watering system only for the sand so we can keep it in the same condition most of the time. We're very happy because for us of course the welfare of the horses is the most important thing.”

Equally important for the racing fans and holiday-makers who flock to the area in late summer is a proper week of action on the track. As with racecourses everywhere, Baden-Baden has had to run the gauntlet of Covid restrictions. Happily, a recent easing of restrictions has meant that a crowd of around 10,000 has been permitted over the last four race days. This opportunity has been taken up by many, with a notably high number of families with young children in attendance.

“We had the problem that we came in very late in January this year and we only signed the contract at the end of March,” Buchner explained. “It was impossible to have a festival in spring, especially because the track wasn't in good condition because over the winter nobody was responsible for it. Baden Racing was off and we had a lot of work to do to get the track into good shape again.”

The Grosse Woche, which combines racing with musical and cultural events in the town of Baden-Baden, as well the country's major yearling sale, usually features six days of racing, but that was reduced this year.

He continued, “We wondered how many race days we could offer, and of course every new race day has specific costs so it was easier for us to have four race days with 11 or 12 races instead of the six days with eight or nine races. but it does make them very long days.

“The number of racegoers allowed had previously been linked to the incidences of Covid so we would have fallen back to having only 500 people on the track, but three weeks ago the rules were changed in the Baden-Württemberg region so that we were no longer linked to the infection rate. Right now, we can have 50% capacity, which is about 10,000 people, and that's fine for us. We were really lucky because other parts of Germany still have restrictions. But it is so difficult when you are talking to sponsors in May or June and they say, 'what can you offer us?' And we say 'we don't know, other than we will have races'.”

Happily, racing is back at Baden-Baden, along with the people and some sponsors, notably Casino Baden-Baden and Wackenhut. Recently the course lost Longines as the sponsor of its most famous race, the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden, which next year celebrates its 150th anniversary. 

“This year it is the 149th Grosser Preis and the very first one was also run on 5 September, so that is really nice, and it was great to have the Derby winner [Sisfahan {Ger}] and the best older horse in Germany, Torquator Tasso (Ger), in the race, as well as two foreign starters,” Buchner said.

Godolphin fielded one of those overseas runners, the third-placed Passion And Glory (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}), and it has had a stranglehold on the race in the previous three seasons, with its recent winners including Ghaiyyath (Ire), who was the top-rated horse in the year following his Grosser Preis triumph. 

“Next year we are planning a special celebration for the Grosser Preis and we are looking for a new major sponsor for the race,” Buchner added. “Longines came out of the race about three weeks ago and that was a bit of a surprise for us. As long as I can remember it has been such a good race to prepare for the Arc. We had Pilsudski (Ire) running here, and Carroll House (Ire). The distance between the two race days is nearly perfect.”

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