This will not be pretty if row goes all the way to a tribunal
Racing itself may suffer collateral damage in the aftermath of Bushell’s toxic exit from the Jockey Club
It would appear likely that no one – not the Jockey Club, Delia Bushell or racing – will emerge unscathed from the chief executive’s high-profile departure after less than a year as the organisation’s first female in charge.
After Bushell’s explosive resignation letter on Sunday, it is not going to be pretty and the Jockey Club might need its cowboy saddle because it looks like it is in for a rodeo ride.
Even though the 270-yearold organisation is confident it went through watertight due process with regard to employment law – hiring a specialist firm to deal with the dispute – and that it has a robust case against Bushell, it would clearly prefer this not to end up at a tribunal.
It is understood that Bushell, who has emphatically denied the club’s allegations, was dismissed and given five days to agree her exit. But by going public with her resignation letter, it is clear she has chosen to fight fire with fire.
To counter her letter, the club retaliated by also going public with the individual charges, which do not make good reading.
What is abundantly clear is that after less than a year in the job, relations between Bushell and the Jockey Club members and her fellow executives were strained before, eventually, becoming toxic and breaking down altogether.
The final straw for many was the extended negotiations with
ITV over coverage – but having come from BT Sport and Sky media, rights are Bushell’s specialist area. The deal was eventually signed last month.
For outsiders, the dispute will reinforce all the stereotypes that the Jockey Club is a bunch of old, misogynist, landed toffs whose “club” is not commercial and who are out of their depth in the corporate world. That is outdated, though. Owner of 15 racecourses, including Cheltenham, Aintree, Newmarket and Epsom, until Covid came along, the club had an annual turnover of £200 million, double what it was 10 years ago.
The average age of its 12-strong executive management team is in the forties and many of them have experience working for blue-chip companies. These days, women hold posts throughout its structure.
Racing is likely to suffer a degree of collateral damage. Bushell can be viewed as the reformer brought in to shake things up but who met resistance. The British Horseracing Authority is about to seek changes from the Government in the Levy system but there will be plenty of MPs willing to believe that the BHA is just an extension of the Jockey Club.
Where this leaves Sandy Dudgeon, the chief steward, is not clear but one imagines it places him on fairly thin ice. Having appointed Bushell, he was just about her last supporter, but if the buck stops with him, it will also fall at his feet if the Jockey Club was to lose an action against her or be forced into a payout.
Bushell has already played one game of chicken with ITV. The question now is will she play another with her old employer?
If it goes to court, the institution will have more to lose than its former chief executive. Racing, meanwhile, will watch on to see who blinks first.