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Harrington to Step Down From Chief Executive of BHA

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Julie Harrington is to step down as chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority at the end of 2024 after four years leading British racing’s governing body.

She said she had made the decision “some time ago” but had agreed to stay on until the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition to the next chief executive.

The shock news comes just days after it was announced that another senior figure in the sport’s leadership, Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale, is also leaving his job.

Harrington said: “With so much now in place to develop and grow the industry strategy, which will secure a brighter future for British horse racing, it felt like the right time to move on and let someone else steer the sport through its next exciting phase.

“It has been a huge privilege to lead the BHA during what has been a period of real change as the sport has developed and implemented shared strategies for a sustainable future, and an ability to speak with one united voice.

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“I love working in racing, it is an amazing sport to be involved in. I will always be a fan and you can expect to see me at the races in the years ahead. I am proud of the progress the industry has made over the past three years, especially in improving the governance structure, and I hope that racing’s stakeholders will continue to work together cooperatively to attract new audiences, further improve the customer experience and grow the sport.

“I am confident that if the sport continues to foster the sense of unity and shared purpose that we have developed over the past few years then great things can be achieved.”

During her time as chief executive, Harrington had to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on British racing, as well as challenges to the BHA’s position as governing body, which led to changes to the sport’s governance structure.

She was also central to the sport’s lobbying efforts with the government over its gambling review including the threat of affordability checks on punters to racing’s finances.

That included talks with bookmakers over reforms to the levy system which broke down late last month when prime minister Rishi Sunak announced a snap general election.

The BHA has also come under criticism during her tenure over issues including new whip rules and the controversial changes to this year’s fixture list, such as the introduction of Premier racing.

The news of Harrington’s departure comes with the BHA also seeking a successor to chair Joe Saumarez Smith, who will step down at the end of May 2025.

Harrington added: “My future plans are likely to include a move to a varied non-executive career. Although I took the decision to stand down some time ago, I have agreed to stay on until the end of year to allow a smooth transition to a new CEO.

“The BHA board is already engaged in the search for Joe’s successor as chair and informing the board of my intentions now gives the nominations committee the opportunity to plan an orderly handover, consider the complementary skills of candidates and allow the new chair to be part of the final stages of CEO recruitment.

“British racing is one of the cornerstones of our sporting and cultural heritage. I will be forever thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it, both during my tenures at Northern Racing, on the BHA board and most recently as CEO of the BHA. I wish it every success in the years to come.”

Harrington also paid tribute to the BHA’s executive team and staff.

She added: “It is a team that has undergone a great deal of change in the past few years and one that is dedicated to delivering for our sport. With a busy period ahead, the whole BHA will remain focused on delivering a great service.”

Harrington became BHA chief executive in January 2021, succeeding Nick Rust. She joined the governing body from British Cycling, where she had dealt with controversies surrounding anti-doping policies and accusations of a culture of bullying in the sport.

She had previously been a BHA board member between 2014-19 as well as a senior executive with Northern Racing—one of the forerunners of Arena Racing Company—for eight years, including a spell as managing director of Uttoxeter.

Saumarez Smith added: “Julie has been a fantastic chief executive for the BHA and has done a huge amount for the industry since her appointment. We have been lucky to have her in charge and she will be difficult to replace. I am grateful she has agreed to stay on to the end of the year to allow us to recruit her replacement and to ensure a smooth transition.

“During Julie’s tenure we have completely changed the governance of the sport and the BHA’s role within it. Her influencing skills, often behind-the-scenes, have been key to that change and also in the positive adjustments made to the Gambling Act white paper that posed such a threat to our sport.

“Four years at the top of any sport demands total focus, concentration and enormous amounts of energy and Julie has delivered all of these, in what at times has been a challenging stakeholder and political environment. I, and the BHA board, fully understand why she has taken this decision now and wish her every success in her future roles.” 

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