BHA to launch review into bloodstock sales amid ethical concerns

The ethics of the bloodstock sales sector have been called into question following the BHA's confirmation it has launched a review after receiving evidence of potentially criminal wrongdoing.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust has already begun meeting prominent bloodstock figures, starting a process that is likely to result in the redrawing of the industry code of practice to which all connected to the buying and selling of horses are expected to adhere.

News of the BHA's interest in bloodstock sales – an area whose reputation has previously been maligned in court – has not been universally well received, with successful breeder and Horsemen's Group chairman Philip Freedman describing the review as "a cause for concern".

Explaining the reasons behind its foray into rarely explored territory, Rust wrote in a letter to industry stakeholders: "On reviewing and updating the BHA’s regulatory risks for racing in Great Britain, the BHA board has prioritised a review of the buying and selling of bloodstock and racehorses within British racing.

"We are concerned about evidence of unsatisfactory experiences for owners and prospective owners, who are one of the two major sources of funding within our sport.

"The BHA recognises its locus is concerned only with matters affecting racing, and consequently any regulation it decides to establish will be in that context."

Although Tattersalls and Goffs have mounted a spirited defence of propriety in the sales ring, some of those who buy and sell have expressed concerns about secret payments, bribes, kickbacks and collusion.

The BHA revealed practices linked to the buying and selling of bloodstock were identified as worthy of examination back in 2014 and had prompted the "situational review".

A BHA statement on Tuesday said: "It is agreed among the sport’s leaders that if racing is to grow we need to ensure openness, transparency and fair dealing is at the heart of all we do or we may risk turning away existing and potential investors into the sport. The ownership and purchasing process is no exception to this.

"We believe the majority of individuals involved in the buying or selling of horses will be operating within the bounds of the code of conduct. However, the BHA has received some concerns that there may be a small minority who are not."

The statement continued: "The code of practice has been in place for 13 years now and we are of the view it is the right time for the sport to engage in a conversation about its sales practices (whether through sales houses or privately) and consider whether there needs to be any change to the regulatory landscape to ensure fair and transparent practices in this area.

"To this end, the BHA is currently involved in a pre-consultation with a small number of leaders in this part of our industry that is designed to gather more views which will help shape any review into this topic. We are pleased with the constructive nature of our engagement to date."

The BHA is less likely to be pleased with the reaction of Freedman, who said: "It is, of course, in the interests of all employed in the industry that bloodstock sales adhere to the highest standards of integrity.

"However, until the BHA is capable of giving confidence to industry professionals that not only is it competent to regulate those aspects of the industry for which it is currently responsible, and conducts its inquiries to the standards which those who are subject to its regulations are entitled to expect, the idea that the BHA should expand its regulation into this area will be a cause for concern rather than optimism."

News of the BHA review came as Tattersalls stages Book 2 of its October Yearling Sale.

Tattersalls marketing director Jimmy George said: "We have a meeting arranged with the BHA at their invitation. We believe they wish to discuss the detailed bloodstock industry code of practice which was drawn up by the British sales houses in consultation with the BHA themselves and the various trade bodies some years ago.

"We work tirelessly to create a sales environment where owners and industry professionals alike feel welcome and comfortable, and the huge number of people who made last week’s October Book 1 such a success suggests that Tattersalls and Britain is recognised as a true centre of excellence.

"Integrity at sales is, and always has been, a priority at Tattersalls and we will work with all parties to ensure we continue to set the highest possible standards in this field."

A statement from the Federation of Bloodstock Agents – one of the organisations that along with the BHA put the code of practice in place – read: "The code remains a valid measure of the standards to which all agents must adhere or face BHA disciplinary proceedings under the Rules of Racing.

"The FBA fully supports and is actively co-operating with the BHA in their review of the bloodstock industry, to determine whether there is currently an integrity issue involved in the buying or selling of horses, be it real or perceived."