Whilst the world talks of little else other than the implications and terms of Brexit, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) appears to be exercising its right to silence. Given that of all sports, racing relies on the need for what David Davies described as a “frictionless and invisible” British/Irish boarder, this might be considered somewhat surprising. If you add to that the number of overseas Europeans employed in British stables and the difficulties trainers have in recruitment, some might describe it as negligent.
Following the vote to leave, the BHA promptly issued a statement assuring us that it would “work closely with Government contacts … to represent the best interests of British horseracing”. The impression being there was nothing that couldn’t be resolved over a decent single malt in the Garrick Club. At around the same time the BHA published a paper, which talked positively about Brexit- If it wasn’t for the BHA logo at the top of page, it could almost be mistaken for a UKIP leaflet. Perhaps it was in a state of shock and the sense of denial was no more than a symptom of this condition.
Since June of last year, you will struggle to discover quite how the BHA is representing the best interests of British racing. The only evidence I can find is from the Irish governing body, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), who have confirmed it has had meetings with the BHA. In contrast HRI has been anything but quiet; its chief executive, Brian Kavanagh, has said “The stakes could not be higher” and fears have been expressed of the industry being decimated. It has quoted an array of figures: a business worth 1 billion euros to the Irish economy (not quite as much as we are paying the DUP to prop up the government, but still heck of a lot of money), 65% of foals born in Ireland are exported of which 80% are sold to the UK and there are 10,000 horse movements between Ireland and Britain a year, making an average of 200 a week.
Free movement is currently ensured by a tripartite agreement between Britain, Ireland and France under a European directive which passports horses with minimum regulatory burden. The fear is that without such an arrangement transporting horses through boarders would become so slow and cumbersome buyers would be frightened off and trainers would be very reluctant to put their finely tuned animals through a journey across the Irish sea. Leaving aside the big festivals where the Irish/British rivalry takes centre stage, would Gordon Elliott really want to pop a few horses over for a mid season Thursday at Cheltenham?
There is also the issue of how racing is regulated between the North and South of Ireland. It was reported that the DUP recently scuppered the government’s agreement with the Republic, because it didn’t want Northern Ireland to have arrangements that were separate from the UK. Well the fact of the matter is it already does. Like other sports, racing is regulated on an all Ireland basis. Nine out of ten horses who race at the two Northern Irish courses are trained in the South and both Downpatrick and Down Royal receive capital development grants and prize money from HRI. It is very difficult to see how they could continue to operate outside the current governance structure and impossible to imagine how they would survive without an open boarder.
Considering the current chaotic state of Brexit negotiations, I’m not convinced it’s ever going to happen, but like the BHA, perhaps I’m just in denial.