Having worked at the old British Horseracing Board, as well as holding senior posts in New Zealand racing and his home-country of Australia, Paul Bittar brings a wealth of hands-on experience to the table as he takes up his post as chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority. By all accounts, Bittar’s experience and competence will be put to the test immediately as he addresses two issues that need to be resolved urgently for the British horseracing industry to move forward. The issues that need a speedy resolution are the acceptable use of a whip in horseracing, and funding the Sport of Kings in a shaky economic climate.
While Paul Bittar has more hands-on experience than his predecessor Nic Coward, it has been suggested that with individual racecourses taking on decision making that would previously have been referred to the BHA, Bittar may lack the influence needed to garner support for new policies and then to put them into action. As the world continues to fumble its way through an ever deepening financial crisis, horseracing has been taking a beating as it loses income from off-course betting shops and other revenue sources. Racecourses such as Ascot, Cheltenham, Aintree and Epsom Downs have all been focusing their efforts on active management and marketing, with some measure of success.
With the controversy surrounding whip rules dragging on, it is feared that the upcoming Cheltenham Festival will turn into a public relations disaster, and Bittar will be under pressure to come up with a solution fast. Cheltenham’s managing director Edward Gillespie has made it clear that the whip rules will not damage the festival in any way. Organizers want to keep the focus on the traditional fun and excitement of this popular, and lucrative, four-day annual event, and it is feared that the recent spate of fines and bans may shift the focus to the whip rules controversy, which could prove detrimental to the festival.
Gillespie was reported as saying that the Cheltenham Racecourse will leave the management of whip-rules issues to the BHA, but noted that when those issues start impacting on a race meeting’s credibility, the racecourse would need to get involved. The Cheltenham Festival is set to take place on the 13th to the 16th of March 2012, and will no doubt once again attract thousands of horseracing enthusiasts from far and wide.