Full text – Julie Harrington’s remarks to Parliamentary reception

06 Sep 23

On Tuesday 5 September, British Horseracing Authority Chief Executive Julie Harrington addressed Parliamentarians, senior Government officials and leading racing industry professionals at a BHA-hosted Reception at the Houses of Parliament to showcase the best of the British racing industry and herald the beginning of National Racehorse Week. In her remarks, which can be read in full below, she described British racing’s elite global standing and how reforming the sport’s funding model can secure a vibrant and prosperous future. Julie also relayed concerns from racing bettors regarding the potential implications of the Government’s Gambling White Paper, expressing once again the BHA’s belief that a blanket approach to affordability is not appropriate.

It’s a great pleasure to welcome you all to this iconic venue, I am delighted that you could all join us here this afternoon.

I’d like to thank Laura Farris MP – who has been a fantastic champion of the racing businesses in her constituency since her election in 2019 – for sponsoring our event and to our co-Chair of the Racing APPG, Laurence Robertson MP, for stepping in to make a speech as Laura is unable to make the start of the event.

We are joined by many of my senior colleagues in British racing, and I have to say thank you for the brilliant turnout, and that is because they are so passionate about sharing the brilliance of British racing and how it is an asset to our national life.

We wanted to hold this event to give those of you who are a bit more unfamiliar with the sport an introduction to British racing. And for those of you who have some knowledge, to take the opportunity to update you on some of the key issues faced by our industry.

There are so many reasons to be positive about British racing in 2023. The Flat season is attracting significant interest with Royal Ascot a huge success earlier this year. We’ve also just come off the back of a brilliant Ebor meeting at York, with yet another big winner for Frankie Dettori in his retirement season, riding Absurde to success in the Ebor itself.

I’m pleased to say there is still much to look forward to over the rest of the year, with the St Leger meeting at Doncaster next week  and the return of the Jumps and the superstar that is Constitution Hill still to come. The 2024 fixture list is also due to be released in the coming weeks, following changes signed off earlier this year by the BHA Board with the aim of delivering a more competitive, attractive and engaging racing product as part of racing’s new Industry Strategy.

Further afield, there are a number of British trained horses going to the big international meets – representing and flying the flag for us internationally – in the Autumn, including at the Breeders Cup, where I’m excited to be representing British Racing as part of the Department of Business and Trade Sport’s Economy Trade Mission that is going over to Los Angeles in November.

We are holding this reception at a critical time for British racing, with the review of the Horserace Betting Levy, our statutory funding model currently underway. We have some colleagues here from the Horserace Betting Levy and thank you to them for their continued support whilst this review is underway. We believe this provides a real opportunity for the UK Government to support British racing, by ensuring the Levy rate can deliver the extra funding needed for the sport.

That funding is vital, not only for prize money, which is one of the key sources of incomes for our training yards who are major employers in the rural economy, with our industry supporting 80,000 jobs overall, but also supports many of the brands you can see around the room today, including the Horse Welfare Board, which is doing crucial work in improving equine welfare standards in our sport. Despite being recognised as a world leader, British racing will continue to invest, to learn and to lead in the years ahead.

We firmly believe the status quo cannot remain.

Despite being Britain’s second biggest spectator sport, British racing is increasingly falling behind our international counterparts when it comes to prize money, and experiencing a talent drain, where racehorse owners feel it makes better economic sense for them to race/sell their horse in/to another jurisdiction rather than continue to race them here in Britain, weakening our own amazing product as a result.

Inflation is also driving the cost of putting on racing up and means that the money we do have is no longer going as far, with trickle down effects for the whole racing ecosystem. It is for these reasons that we must press our case for change.

We have submitted our response to the DCMS Levy review and are currently speaking to colleagues at the Betting and Gaming Council to see if a solution can be agreed without the need for Government intervention – which I’m sure would please Minister Andrew! We hope this will be successful, but if not, we will likely be in touch with many of you in the room looking to support our case for positive reform.

Another key issue for us, and one that we are increasingly receiving correspondence on from concerned racing fans, is the proposals in the Government’s Gambling White Paper, specifically on the issue of affordability checks – and it is purely coincidental that we’re here on the day of a Select Committee hearing – which are currently being consulted on by the Gambling Commission.

No one in British racing wants to see someone come to financial harm as a result of betting on horseracing, and we have been taking steps to look at what more we can do as a sport to encourage socially responsible betting, however, we have been clear throughout that a blanket approach to affordability is not appropriate, especially in a sport like racing which has a broad appeal across different socioeconomic demographics.

British racing is working with relevant stakeholders to formulate a response to the Gambling Commission’s consultation, and we look forward to further discussions with both DCMS and the Gambling Commission about how the impact on racing fans, and the industry as a whole, can be decreased.

Our industry has so much to offer wider society and to support the agendas of Government. We are a unique soft power asset, with a huge constituency footprint, and a broad fanbase that cuts across different parts of policy. We are also an industry of untapped potential, and with the right support from Government, will continue to thrive in the coming years.