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Julie Harrington’s BHA departure leaves racing looking to replace three figureheads

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British racing is reeling from the departure of another high-profile administrator with Julie Harrington stepping down as chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority at the end of the year after four years in arguably the most important job in the sport.

Racing is already looking for a new BHA chairman to start next May to replace the outgoing Joe Saumarez-Smith. With Nevin Truesdale having announced last week that he is going at the same time from the Jockey Club and Charlie Liverton already gone from the Racehorse Owners Association, three of the sports key organisations will be looking for new figureheads to take them into 2025 and beyond. Anyone interested in racing, banging heads together and with a proven record of herding cats please apply.

It is coincidence that all three chief executives have gone at a similar time and Harrington is believed to have made her decision a while ago but her announcement was upstaged somewhat when Truesdale announced he was stepping down last week.

Harrington took over at racing’s helm from Nick Rust in 2021 while the Covid pandemic was still wreaking havoc with sport and given the work that has gone towards a new Levy deal and the ever-changing political backdrop, four years seems about par for the course.

During that time she has helped get the sport get back on an even keel after Covid. She also set up a new governance structure whereby her organisation calls the shots rather than the old tripartite system where one of the BHA, Horsemen or Racecourses could veto anything they did not like and oversaw the whip consultation and introduction of rules which seem to be working well for the time being.

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

“I love working in horseracing, 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.

The search has already begun for a successor to Saumarez-Smith, who paid tribute to Harrington. “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.

“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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