Julian Thick (at Aintree)

Julian Thick: will be stepping down as Aintree MD at the end of September

  PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)  

John Baker to replace Julian Thick at Aintree

AINTREE managing director Julian Thick is to leave his post at the end of September, the track's owner Jockey Club Racecourses announced on Tuesday.

Thick, who has been in charge of the running of Aintree for more than five years, and involved in parent group JCR for 20 years, will be replaced by John Baker, who was recently appointed north west regional director.

Thick was thought to be one of the front-runners for the top job at Cheltenham, to be vacated by Edward Gillespie, but that position - and that of south west regional director - went to Ian Renton.

Under Thick's stewardship, the prize-money for the John Smith's Grand National has swelled to nearly £1 million, with more than 150,000 people attending the meeting this year.

Thick said: "Having managed five Grand Nationals and enjoyed working within Jockey Club Racecourses for the last 20 years, I have decided to stand down at the end of September as I am ready for a new challenge.

"Aintree has in place a strong, proven and talented team and I wish John Baker every success leading the north west region in the future. In particular I would like to thank Peter Daresbury and the rest of the Aintree board and executive team for the great support I have received during my time here. I would also like to thank those within the wider Jockey Club family, the racing industry and the all-important local community, who have helped Aintree become the success it is today."

Baker, paid tribute to his predecessor, as he added: "The Grand National was the inspiration of my love for horseracing. To be responsible for Aintree as part of my role heading up the north west region is truly a special opportunity. I would like to thank Julian Thick for the tremendous job he has done over the last few years. With hard work from everyone at Aintree and its sister courses in the north west, I believe we can build on this success in the coming years."

Further restructuring to the JCR management was revealed, with Dickon White to take on the newly created role of group betting director.

White, who is currently managing director at Haydock, will start in September with the brief of maximising the group's Totepool relationship with Betfred, while developing and maintaining relationships with the betting and gaming industries.

White said: "During my 14 years at Haydock Park and Aintree, I have had the opportunity to develop strong relationships and an understanding of the challenges within this sector of the racing industry.

 "I look forward to developing our partnerships with both on-course and off-course operators, to exploit mutually beneficial opportunities now and in the future."

As sporting sights go, few match the sheer excitement of 40 horses thundering towards the first fence at Aintree for the John Smith's Grand National.

A race steeped in history that always provides a story, the Grand National is the ultimate test of endurance and skill for both horse and jockey, as the pairing must navigate 30 treacherous fences, and then still have enough stamina to make a challenge on the run-in.

To manage a clear round in the 4m4f epic is no mean achievement, with the fences notoriously difficult and offering unique challenges.

Over the years, there have been countless memorable moments, Devon Loch's phantom leap in the 1956 contest, Foinavon's shock 100-1 win in 1967 and the brilliance of Red Rum, who took the chase on three occasions in 1973, 74 and 77.

In 1981 Aldaniti and Bob Champion completed a heartwarming tale when winning the race, as Aldaniti had recovered from a career-threatening injury while jockey Champion had battled back from cancer.

In 2011 the race provided another fairytale story as Donald McCain emulated his father and Aintree legend Ginger when winning with Ballabriggs - and that came just a year after champion jockey Tony McCoy finally gained victory in the race at the 15th time of asking.