Jockey Club must reveal all evidence to end Bushell row
Trust is the cornerstone of any sport. It requires a belief that the sport is straight and a faith that the officials who run it are fair. As a young, belligerent trainer, I lost all confidence in officialdom when, by my reckoning, they stitched me up and fined me for refusing to run horses on ground that I considered to be unsafe, while senior trainers were seemingly absolved for the same offence.
The independent judicial panel, which the British Horseracing Authority has set up now, ensures that such miscarriages of justice no longer occur.
So, it is to be celebrated that the 15 new members of that panel who were revealed recently are of the highest calibre. These appointments represent the sort of progression which politicians in Westminster wish to see, if they are to help racing receive a fairer deal from the bookmaking industry.
But that progress has been spectacularly blown out of the water by the row surrounding the departure of the Jockey Club CEO, Delia Bushell.
The accusations against Bushell – which she denies – partly upheld by the club’s independent QC, made her position untenable, according to its sub-committee.
One of them is an allegation that she made a racist remark. Now, I have never met Bushell, but while researching material for this column, I had a long phone conversation with her about the lack of diversity in British Horseracing’s ruling bodies, and what she was hoping to do to correct that.
As a result of that conversation, I can state with confidence that Bushell is not a racist and her departure from the Jockey Club is a huge blow to diversity being promoted in that organisation.
But it is the process of the investigation into Bushell that I find deeply troubling.
What is also particularly disappointing about this affair are the press briefings.
Bushell’s shake-up of the executive she inherited at the bequest of her chairman, Sandy Dudgeon, has been portrayed as unsuccessful because she was not “liked” by everyone.
When do you ever hear of male executives failing because they were not liked? Never. In fact a male being tough and abrasive is a badge of honour.
So, the unsubtle message has been that women can only succeed as CEOs if they can charm their male co-workers into liking them.
The vast majority of the rank and file of the Jockey Club work tirelessly for the good of racing and some of them are unbelievably philanthropic.
It is a great honour to be asked to join this club, which is central to the well being of horseracing. And its members wear their metal badges with pride. But whether they can do so today is another matter.
There is only one way out of this row. Both parties should agree to put all of the evidence into the public domain. Only by examining it in the correct context can a line be drawn under this matter.
For those who think this is all just political shenanigans of no consequence to what happens on the race track, perhaps they should bear in mind that without owners supplying horses, there is no racing. And those owners want sure-footed leadership of the sport if they are to invest in it.
With that in mind, the following numbers make sober reading. In 2019, the major National Hunt sales in England and Ireland sold approximately 2,400 horses at an aggravate of £34 million, if you assume the exchange rate was €1.15 to the pound.
In 2020, at the sales which were pulled together to service that market, only 885 horses got sold, for £18.5 million.
There will have possibly been more private sales in 2020, which these numbers do not allow for. But all the same, the numbers are quite stark.
Parting shots: Delia Bushell’s exit has cast a shadow over the Jockey Club