Serious Threat to Future of British & Irish Horse Racing

A damning light has been shone on the buying and selling of bloodstock in Britain with a BHA report calling for changes to an industry that is barely regulated, tarnished by unscrupulous individuals and populated by some players who are engaged in improper practices that are potentially criminal.

These were part of findings submitted to the British Horse Racing Authority by former police executive Justin Felice, in a report commissioned by the authority in 2017. 

A copy of the report which was leaked to the Racing Post, showed a number of interesting conclusions and recommendations in order to upkeep the prestigious reputation that the British & Irish market holds.

Whilst wishing to emphasise that 95% of those involved in bloodstock sales are respectable and acting appropriately, Felice’s warning is sounded toward the 5% of ‘bad apples’ that tarnish the market, leading to needs for reform. 

Felice points out that the current regulation of the industry ‘is not fit for purpose’ – citing that many agents are entirely unregulated. He also notes that many participants are victims of or know of those who have become victim to ‘improper inducements and payments.

The most prevalent unethical practices were found to be secret profiteering, agents representing two sides of the same transaction with at least one of those sides being unaware of such as well as agents demanding ‘luck money’ from vendors and sales prices being artificially increased through conspiratorial pre-agreed up bidding.

However, perhaps the most alarming finding noted to the BHA is the fact that no complaints have been made despite an awareness of such practices. A ‘fear-induced code of silence’ has gripped the industry, with official bodies and sales houses left incapable of taking action as a result of lacking evidence. 

As a recommendation in order to eradicate this, Felice and the review team have made clear that The BHA has legitimate reasons to be considered the rightful regulator of the bloodstock industry, whose members should agree to fall under its jurisdiction while efforts must also be made to establish the support of key bodies in Irish racing and bloodstock sales.

With the sport of horse-racing already suffering from a fragile ownership base, the review will give a large vote of confidence to those in the industry, but also points out quite a lot of harsh realities that are in serious need of both address and reform. 

Felice’s overall summary of the report findings highlights the exact course of action which is needed to be taken in order to maintain traditionally high standards of reputation:

“The review found the bloodstock industry was generally a safe environment in which to buy and sell bloodstock and the vast majority of industry participants appear to display high standards of integrity.”

“However, the interviewee feedback also revealed a widespread knowledge and acknowledgement of unethical practices being conducted with relative impunity in the bloodstock industry for many years, with a small number of unscrupulous individuals being identified repeatedly by different interviewees as people who pose a real risk to the integrity and reputation of the entire bloodstock industry.”

If there is knowledge of such practices, then it must be reported to the relevant authorities as those who remain silent also knowingly put their own livelihood at risk. The self-regulatory model is in need of reform as there are evident loopholes which are being exploited for non-ethical purposes. 

A handful of senior industry figures were sent the report some weeks ago, prior to last week’s first meeting of a BHA-led group that brought together representatives of Tattersalls, Goff’s, the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, Federation of Bloodstock Agents, Racehorse Owners Association and National Trainers Federation.

It was reported to be a positive session, with BHA Chief Executive, Nick Rust praising constructive participation and stating: “I’m very pleased a clear way forward has emerged.

“The group will meet again next month to work together to develop a detailed implementation plan which will help our industry in its aim to retain and grow racehorse ownership.”

For now, bloodstock industries seem to be operating nicely, but there are plenty of risks that need ironing out for British and Irish racing to continue to thrive.

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