Racing: Ricketts to lead reformed Club

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The Independent Online
CHRISTOPHER HAINES, the Jockey Club's chief executive, was left to scour the jobs pages yesterday after failing to secure the post as head of the British Horseracing Board, the new administrative body he helped to create. The pounds 100,000 salary and groaning in- tray have been won instead by Tristram Ricketts.

Lucky him. Ricketts, 45, steps from the relative obscurity of the Horseracing Betting Levy Board (the sport's bank manager) into the most powerful office in racing. Given the manifold problems faced by the industry, though, it could be compared to the post of chief pump-attendant on the Titanic.

Ricketts said that he was 'delighted and flattered' to have won the three-man race for the title of generalissimo, but it was significant that he did not add the word 'surprised'. Earlier this week a leak from the nascent BHB left us in no doubt that Ricketts had edged ahead of Haines and the other (un-named) short-listed candidate. This deliberate indiscretion, by the way, was bemoaned in the clubs of London because it ruined all betting on the contest.

Inquiries about Haines's future are being met with embarrassed 'don't knows'. The irony for him is that he was among the first to realise that the Jockey Club could not, in its existing form, continue to administer an activity that employs hundreds of thousands of people and generates pounds 4.3 billion a year in betting turnover. The subtext of his rejection by the BHB is: 'thanks for the idea . . . er, the door's that way.'

In truth, anything else would have brought ridicule cascading on to the BHB as it works towards its April inauguration. So often have fears of a 'Jockey Club stitch-up' been heard that the appointment of Haines would have looked like some Machiavellian power play designed to maintain Jockey Club influence, though Ricketts is hardly the man with no name coming in from out of town.

He is very much an insider with unrivalled knowledge of racing's finances and a good deal of experience at playing-off the many competing voices which are to be heard bleating outside the Levy Board's headquarters. Having beaten 157 other applicants, and with a pay-cheque bigger than a prime minister, Ricketts will have to quickly justify the faith of the selection panel and save the BHB from the suspicion that it is merely a collection of old faces done up in disguise.

'I give my heartiest congratulations to Tristram Ricketts on his appointment,' Haines said diplomatically. 'Having worked with him for the last three years I'm well aware of his considerable abilities. I know Tristram's experience will be invaluable to the British Horseracing Board as it tackles the challenges ahead.'

No doubt Haines will be relieved to escape all the 'invisible man' jokes and escape the anarchy that he was confronted with immediately after his recruitment by the Jockey Club in October 1989. Though the profile he kept was perhaps excessively low, Haines did much to make the internal workings of the Jockey Club more businesslike and drew on the expertise of high-ranking economists to help combat the commercial arguments of the off- course betting industry.

It is in that field that Ricketts's biggest challenge lies. The fact that bookmakers are predicting that racing will get just pounds 5m in extra revenue from the evening opening of betting shops - when turnover is expected to rise by pounds 500m - shows just how resolute the industry will have to be to secure a proper payment for its product from the big High Street chains.

Yesterday Ricketts spoke of 'maintaining close personal and professional relationships with all parts of the racing and betting industries and with Westminster and Whitehall', so his preference is for conciliation over confrontation.

Shaw's dictum that 'the secret of success is to offend the greatest number of people' will clearly not be emblazoned over the BHB's entrance.