Officials at the British Horseracing Authority have stressed their focus is on working towards a resumption of racing “as soon as possible” amid reported frustration among some trainers over the leadership of chief executive Nick Rust.
Rust announced in January he would be leaving the post he has held for six years at the end of 2020, and the Sunday Telegraph reported Mark Johnston and Ralph Beckett had contacted BHA chair Annamarie Phelps to voice their concerns following a press release on April 15 regarding the continued suspension of racing in Britain.
No date has yet been set for a return after racing was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, but plans are in place to resume behind closed doors in a phased reintroduction on the Flat when Government approval is given. The last meetings to take place in Britain were behind closed doors at Wetherby and Taunton on March 17.
A statement from the BHA on Sunday read: “The BHA board met briefly this morning to discuss media reporting of criticism of the BHA and its chief executive.
“The board – which includes members nominated by the organisations representing horsemen and racecourses – understands the pressures on all in racing at present and recognises that BHA executives benefit from constructive feedback from participants.
“There will be very few sports or businesses in which similar dialogue isn’t going on given the nature of the crisis. The board asks that to be done in accordance with racing’s values, to be respectful and not single out individuals unfairly for carrying out their role.
“The racing industry, like everyone at this time, puts the health of the public and our participants first. This was clear in our decision to suspend racing and is a central focus of our planning for resumption.
“Our CEO Nick Rust and his team are acting in support of decisions taken by an industry group, endorsed by the BHA’s Members Committee and enacted by the BHA board. Our staff are focusing their efforts right now on planning for the resumption of racing as soon as possible. They are working in full collaboration with trainers, racecourses and others.
“Good progress has been made and racing will have detailed proposals incorporating expert medical opinion to present to Government as it prepares to review the current restrictions. It is encouraging to see the positive results of our dialogue with Government in weekend media reports of the Government’s desire for sport to resume.
“Nick, his team, and the industry colleagues with whom they are working so closely, are looking forward and are united in wanting the sport to resume as soon as it is possible. They have the board’s full and unequivocal support.”
Middleham trainer Johnston said on Sunday: “Nobody has made any suggestion that racing should be treated differently from other industries or we should or ignore or flout Government guidelines or directions – we are basically calling for a restart of racing when appropriate within Government guidelines and proper, confident leadership from the BHA to achieve that.
“As for my quotes on Nick Rust, one person goes on Twitter and says ‘absolutely disgusted that these trainers are calling for the immediate resignation of Nick Rust’ – Nick Rust resigned in January, and what I said in the email was why does someone resign in January and finish next January?
“In any walk of life that is not good business and to have the spokesperson for racing being someone who is not going to work in racing in the future, as far as we are aware, just makes no sense.”
He added: “Nick has sent another email on it (since April 15) and I have supported it, it’s as simple as that.”
Beckett said: “I have no comment to make on the article in the Sunday Telegraph. The focus is on my horses, their owners, and as a member of the BHA resumption of racing group, the return of racing.”
A statement from the National Trainers Federation read: “With such a high degree of uncertainty for the nation and livelihoods under threat, everyone has an opinion on the best way forward. Often they express it with passion and urgency.
“Since the emails referred to by the Sunday Telegraph were written, racing’s plan for resumption has been developed further through trust and collaboration. We have a good story to present to the Government, showing how our sport can be staged safely.
“We need to look forward and come together behind the plan.”