The online betting exchange Betfair has committed to taking over the Ascot 2009's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsorship, and next July the race will carry a prize of GBP 1 million for the first time - a significant increase on 2008's GBP 850 000.

The UK-based firm is buying not just into a summer highlight of British racing – but into aristocratic circles. Ascot is owned by the British Crown, and until 2006 the July race had been sponsored for more than 20 years by the international diamond company De Beers. Queen Elizabeth II gave her consent in 1975 for "Diamond" to be included in the race's name.

The Betfair sponsorship is set to run initially for five years, and includes the rights to advertise widely....but not in the exclusive Royal Enclosure.

Royal Ascot's chief executive, Charles Bennett, explained: "The King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the headline agreement in a substantial seven-figure deal over five years that Ascot and Betfair believe will develop into a wider commercial relationship."

The contest will be the centrepiece of what will now be "Betfair Weekend at Ascot," while Betfair will also be sponsoring the Ascot Chase next February.

Stephen Burn, Betfair's director of horseracing, said: "We are very pleased that Ascot understand our business and are keen to work with us in a way that we have been hoping to work with racing for such a long time – the Ascot executive has been very forward thinking. It had never been our intention to try to slap our name in front of the King George. This is a ground-breaking agreement, especially as it takes us up to and beyond the course's historic tercentenary in 2011."

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