Welcome back to British horseracing.
I am, of course, aware that you worked for the BHB between 2004-2005, so the unusual characteristics of the British racing industry are not lost on you.
From your time here you will appreciate that, whatever problems you faced when working in both Australian and New Zealand racing, they are unlikely to compare with those of our complicated, factionalised, betting operator-orientated industry. But, then, your old friend and countryman Greg Nichols, as a former BHB Chief Executive, would have left you in no doubt about that.
First, though, we need to be positive. It’s a real plus that you’re a racing man with an obvious passion for the sport. As such, you will be familiar with the heritage and tradition of British racing, showcased by our major races and festival meetings. I am sure you appreciate that, whatever our funding problems, our quality racing, with its well-deserved international reputation, is rightly admired throughout the world.
May I say you made a positive impression when you visited the UK in November and owners were pleased with your efforts in trying to help with the whip dispute. The fact that you are clearly good at getting on with people and have been involved in racing administration no doubt underlines your suitability for this job – though there does, as you know, remain a fundamental question mark over exactly what the job is. In my view, the ‘job’ is the governance and administration of the BHA. As we all know, the OFT decreed that commercial matters cannot be part of the BHA’s remit.
In addition, you probably don’t want to be reminded of the fact that, while British racing administration always seems to be in a state of flux, it is particularly the case at the moment. There are doubts whether the so-called restructure of the industry is going to proceed and whether the levy system can be replaced by a scheme acceptable to both government and racing, not to mention betting operators.
British racing administration is in a state of flux over industry restructure and the levy
If the restructure does happen, it will mean we have a clear system where the commercial side of racing is based on an agreement between the horsemen and racecourses. Either way, the BHA is in the position of a regulator.
Anyway, I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting stuck into the BHA budget, which I understand is going to be your first big task. It’s just as well you’re a qualified accountant because the BHA shareholders have big expectations of your expenditure review and I, in particular, hope that you are going to take a ‘blank piece of paper’ approach, where every item of expenditure in the budget is questioned.
Integrity standards are, of course, crucial but it will come as no surprise to hear that owners are angry with the BHA’s ongoing gigantic budget (£29 million) particularly when, yet again, the BHA has suggested funding shortfalls in this budget by increasing charges to owners.
Forgive me for bringing this up again, but you’ve already been taken to task for suggesting the betting industry here makes the biggest financial contribution to British racing when it is, of course, owners who are by far the biggest contributors. I’m sure you now understand how this jarred, especially when you consider the damaging lack of prize-money and the extent to which the betting industry’s contribution to racing has declined in recent years.
Owners may be prepared to remain open-minded towards a ‘new broom’ approach at the BHA for a limited period and I, personally, am prepared to take a considered view on your apparent determination to work with the betting industry provided we see positive results. However, timing is of the essence and, with your background, we can only hope to see the signs of success in the immediate future.
With best possible wishes.