Racing: Club surrenders reins after 200 years: The turf's rulers join the 20th century as the British Horseracing Board promises greater democracy

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The Independent Online
AT LAST it has happened. After over 200 years of rule and 18 months of discussion, the Jockey Club yesterday ceded its control of racing to a new body, the British Horseracing Board. A new body made up of old parts it has to be said. At yesterday's launch the line- up of 11 grey-suited and largely grey- haired men hardly provided a radical alternative to the old regime.

While the members of the Board could not be mistaken for a racial, sexual or social cross-section of Britain in the 1990s they do roughly fulfil one of the aims of the new body, to be representative of the racing industry.

Four directors of the Board are drawn from the Jockey Club, including the chairman, the Club's Senior Steward, Lord Hartington, and the relatively radical Lord Zetland; two places at the table are reserved for those representing racehorse owners and two for those speaking on behalf of the racecourses; the remaining three seats go to those parts of the racing industry which require representation but who, unlike owners and courses, are not capital investors in the sport - jockeys, trainers, stable-staff and racegoers.

Perhaps the Jockey Club quartet, and their known sympathisers among the other directors, will exert a disproportionate influence on BHB policy, but others on the Board were quick to refute suggestions yesterday that the Club members might prove overbearing.

Nick Robinson, a breeder and publisher representing owners, said: 'I have been an outspoken critic of the Jockey Club for 15 years and I have seen nothing to indicate that the Club intends to dominate the Board.'

His words were echoed by Michael Darnell, a director of Tesco Stores, and one of the three 'racing industry' representatives. 'I've come in from outside racing, and you may think I've been hijacked already,' he said. 'But I do not support any theory that this is the Jockey Club in another guise.'

Making the whole thing work and heading an administrative staff which he describes as 'lean and mean' will be Tristram Ricketts, the Board's chief executive. His 20 years of experience at the Levy Board will be invaluable in getting the various factions to pull in the same direction. It is a task that may make him seem underpaid at pounds 100,000 a year.

The other key figure is Lord Hartington, a progressive administrator by anybody's standards and a raging revolutionary in comparison with most of his predecessors as Senior Steward. His success was in convincing some of the Club's old guard, the 'backwoodsmen', that this was the right time to embrace some new-fangled ideas like democracy and accountability.

Another catalyst for change was the dual-party Home Affairs Select Committee which investigated the racing industry last year. It made it clear that the sport would not receive a sympathetic hearing from government until it widened the base of its ruling body.

That has now been achieved and one of the BHB's first aims is to persuade the Treasury to reduce the rate of betting tax. 'I believe betting is overtaxed and that a reduction in betting tax would benefit the Government as well as the racing industry,' Ricketts said.

'Duty of betting on horseracing yielded over pounds 320m to the government last year,' he said. 'It is therefore very much in government's interest that racing prospers. '

Among the BHB's long-term objectives is to take over the Levy Board's task of spending punters' contributions to the sport and to assume the role of the Home Office in overseeing the Tote, including appointing its chairman. The present incumbent, Lord Wyatt, a vociferous supporter of Conservative policy, has been rewarded with an extended tenure in the post during which he has rarely been in total harmony with the BHB's predecessor.

The Jockey Club will of course remain and will retain an administrative role responsible for licensing, discipline, security and anti-doping measures. But the big decisions, those concerning the business of racing, will be made by the BHB.

The Club will even continue to share the same building as its successor; but now it will be on the floor below.

(Photograph omitted)