The Jockey Club has appointed Channel4 racing commentator Jim McGrath as its representative to the British Horseracing Board.
Until now only industry representatives sat on the BHB Board, which in turn appoints a chairman and an independent director. The Jockey Club has three appointees, the Industry Committee (Horseracing) Ltd, the Racecourse Association and the Racehorse Owners Association have two each and the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association has one.
The Chief Executive of the BHB and the chairman of the Race Planning Committee also sit on the Board but there is no provision for independent members to join. The BHB had agreed with the Office of Fair Trading last summer to open up its Board, and McGrath had long been in line for a seat as an informal representative of racegoers.
However, the restructuring of the Board fell casualty to the European Court of Justice’s shock ruling, which could potentially deprive the BHB of £14m in database revenues. Faced with this degree of uncertainty, two of the BHB’s shareholders — the Racecourse Association and the Racehorse Owners Association — withdrew their support for the new constitution two weeks ago. “I have received reassurances that this is just a timing delay and not a vote of no-confidence in the proposed Board or a reneging on their commitment to change,” BHB Chairman Martin Broughton said at the time.
As a result, McGrath’s appointment was put on hold until last week, when Nigel Clarke — one of the Jockey Club’s three directors on the BHB Board — gave up his seat to the Channel4 commentator.
“We wholly supported the proposed changes to the make-up of BHB’s Board which would increase the number of independent directors and enable it to become a more effective governing body, less bound by factionalised interests. We have no objection to the Jockey Club, as one of the [BHB’s] four shareholders, having only one appointee on the Board,” says the Jockey Club’s Senior Steward, Julian Richmond-Watson.
“When the proposed changes were not approved, I suggested to the Stewards of the Jockey Club that Jim McGrath became one of our appointees. The Stewards approved that proposal on Tuesday [7 December].”
Although he takes up one of the Jockey Club seats, McGrath is bound to be an independent voice. However, the Jockey Club doesn’t appear to be worried about losing the edge that one extra seat on the BHB Board gave them over other shareholders.
“The Jockey Club’s brief to its appointees on the British Horseracing Board is to act in the best interests of British racing. This brief will surely coincide with any brief an independent director would have,” says spokesman Owen Byrne. “Jim McGrath is an individual of outstanding calibre. He is renowned for his objectivity and integrity across the wide spectrum of our industry, a voice of reason, and will undoubtedly bring a fresh angle to Board discussions with his forward thinking. He has a comprehensive knowledge of our sport, and an obvious respect for its history and traditions.”
From next year, the Jockey Club’s three representatives on the BHB Board will be McGrath, Richmond-Watson, and Sir Michael Connell.
The National Trainers Federation, which was also hoping for a seat on the BHB Board, expressed their dismay at the BHB’s failure to reform its constitution.
“We appreciate the BHB shareholders’ reasons for caution at this time,” they said. “But we remain determined to obtain direct representation for trainers at Board level and therefore look forward to resolution of the complex issues involved.”