Uneasy lies the crown in the sport of kings

British Horseracing Board adds to turmoil on the turf by planning a shake-up that could end its reign. Abigail Townsend reports
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The Independent Online

The British Horseracing Board (BHB), the sport's main governing body, is considering a radical overhaul in which the commercial arm could be spun off and which could even lead to the demise of the organisation.

The British Horseracing Board (BHB), the sport's main governing body, is considering a radical overhaul in which the commercial arm could be spun off and which could even lead to the demise of the organisation.

Next year sees the creation of the Horseracing Regulatory Authority (HRA), which takes over from the Jockey Club as the sport's most senior regulatory body. The Jockey Club, which was set up by a group of wealthy breeders and enthusiasts in 1752, will then revert to its origins as a members' club with no authority in racing.

But it is understood that the BHB, which was set up by the Jockey Club in 1993 when it accepted that its archaic nature was no longer suited to the modern-day sport, is planning a massive shake-up of its own.

Under proposals currently being considered, the body - which last week named outgoing BAT boss Martin Broughton as its new chairman - will spin out its commercial arm, British Horseracing Enterprises. BHE currently handles the sale of racing's database -the runners and riders - mainly to bookmakers.

Media rights are handled and sold by the racecourses themselves, but it is hoped that under the new structure, BHE would also assume responsibility for the rights.

The slimmed-down BHB would concentrate on other areas of the sport, such as fixture planning and marketing. It would be answerable to the HRA, which will be responsible for the regulation of horseracing rather than the day-to-day governing of the sport.

However, under one radical proposal, the slimmed-down BHB would merge with the HRA to create one overall governing and regulatory body, much in the way that other sports are overseen by a single organisation, such as the Football Association. Insiders stress the proposal is only one of many being considered, but it remains a serious proposition.

Racing, which is dominated by a number of interested organisations and bodies, has been looking to modernise and streamline its structure for some time. This process gathered momentum last April when the Office of Fair Trading accused the BHB of anti-competitive and monopolistic behaviour, particularly in relation to its control of the fixture list.

The BHB, concerned that many of the OFT's suggested remedies would damage the sport, initially took an aggressive stance and openly criticised the report. But it is understood that its position has softened and informal talks have been going on between the two parties since January. The body hopes to have agreed a new structure for the sport in the coming months and is aiming to have its proposals in front of the OFT in the summer.

Also prompting changes has been the demise of attheraces, the digital racing channel. The consortium behind it - consisting of BSkyB, Channel 4 and racecourse operator Arena Leisure - paid £307m in 2001 for the right to show images from 49 of the UK's 59 racecourses. However, the channel is due to go off the air on Tuesday after attheraces said it needed to renegotiate terms after projected revenue targets were not met.

It had been hoped the racecourses would agree to new terms and that the deal could continue. But the consortium said last week that, while discussions were continuing, "there is little chance of achieving a successful outcome before Monday's deadline".

Yet the consortium - which was also the subject of an OFT investigation until it pulled the plug on the deal itself - is not giving up the fight and its managing director, Ian Hogg, warned last week that attheraces was the industry's "only viable option".

Alternatives being considered include courses broadcasting their own races, though some experts have expressed concern that smaller venues would not be able to compete.

Mr Broughton will take up the top job at the BHB at the end of June, when the incumbent, Peter Savill, steps down. The final financial details of Mr Broughton's pay package are still being discussed by the BHB board but it is understood that, unlike his predecessor, he will not waive his salary. However, it is unlikely to be much more than £40,000 a year, so it is perhaps fortunate that Mr Broughton has accepted the chairmanship at British Airways. BAT paid him £2.4m last year.

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