With the Racecourse Association still dragging its heels in signing up to the hugely important Members’ Agreement, it is understandable that the BHA and Horsemen’s Group are becoming exasperated after almost a year of racecourse procrastination.
Let us please not go back to the bad old days when the constitution of the BHA (and the BHB before it) fuelled internal wrangling, which in turn gave rise to individual constituents constantly questioning the BHA’s authority and showing dissent when decisions didn’t go their way.
Now with an independent board, the BHA has almost all of the pieces in its administrative jigsaw in place
The racecourses must recognise that today’s BHA is an altogether better organisation and the unity that now exists in racing is one of the key reasons why the government has picked up the cudgel on the industry’s behalf over the imposition of a racing right. This is in marked contrast to the days when racing’s various factions, driven by self-interest, were often at each other’s throats and, even worse, didn’t much care that disagreements were played out in public.
Now with an independent board, the BHA has almost all of the pieces in its administrative jigsaw in place. But the most important one – the agreement between the BHA and all the industry’s stakeholders – remains outstanding. Here we are talking about nothing less than binding the whole industry, with the Horsemen’s Group, representing owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and racing’s workforce, and the RCA, representing the racecourses.
Still, it seems, some of the racecourses and, as usual, Arena Racing Company, remain very sceptical about what they see as ceding power to the governing authority for fear of not being able to realise individual advantages, in particular with regard to fixtures. Such an attitude betrays a failure to recognise that ultimately racing can only fulfil its full potential if it works harmoniously.
Under its Chairman, Steve Harman, and its new inspirational Chief Executive, Nick Rust, the BHA has shown itself capable of balancing expertise with good judgement and, as such, has gained the respect and support of its shareholders.
It has shown that only a governing authority that has the overall interests of this multi-faceted sport at heart is in a position to weigh up all the complexities and come to the right decisions, even though those decisions will obviously not always find favour with every constituent.
Taking the example of the controversy that recently erupted over so-called Super Saturday, there are probably four interest groups including the betting industry all pulling in different directions on this issue.
But only the BHA is in a position to stand back and make an objective decision on what appears to be a ridiculous concentration of high-quality fixtures and races on this one day. And it is only they who are in possession of all the facts to assess whether the current focus on Saturdays, leaving much of the weekday programme threadbare, should be reversed.
Much more important, of course, is the stance BHA adopts over fixtures – and particularly all-weather fixtures. The ROA only recently stated that we are against any further expansion of all-weather racing, being convinced that it will change the whole complexion of British racing.
Yet this stance clearly collides with the wishes of Arena Racing Company and Chelmsford City who will also be elbowing themselves to the front of the all-weather fixture queue. It is a fair bet that Arena will soon be pushing for more fixtures to satisfy Newcastle’s new all-weather racecourse (tragically, due to be built on the site of its wonderful turf course), although we must ensure it honours its recent pledge not to transfer fixtures from their turf tracks to Newcastle.
Of course, Nick Rust knows the fundamental problem is that the BHA currently manages only about 13% of the fixture list and the racecourses reckon they ‘own’ the rest.
The BHA has all of this and more on its plate in the next few months – but then, as the governing authority, it must be allowed to govern.