A damning light has been shone on the buying and selling of bloodstock in Britain with a BHA report calling for changes to an industry that is barely regulated, tarnished by unscrupulous individuals and populated by some players who are engaged in improper practices that are potentially criminal.
Those were among the most stinging findings submitted to the BHA by former top policeman Justin Felice, who has urged key stakeholder groups to accept the bloodstock industry should be regulated by British racing's governing body.
That was one of eight recommendations made by Felice, who was appointed by the BHA to carry out a review which culminated in a report that is most critical of bloodstock agents – five per cent of whom, it is alleged, "are bad apples" – but which stresses the vast majority of those working across the industry behave entirely properly.
However, Felice believes the future of those honest people, and indeed the reputation of British racing, is under threat due to the actions of a dangerous minority. According to the report, the major sales companies Tattersalls and Goffs recognise the need for reform.
Among the conclusions and recommendations made in the report, a copy of which was leaked to the Racing Post, are:
- The current regulation of the bloodstock industry "is not fit for purpose", with agents, in effect, entirely unregulated
- Many industry participants admitted they had been victims of unethical practices – or knew of those who had been – often relating to "improper inducements and payments"
- The most prevalent unethical and/or unlawful practices were found to be secret profiteering, agents representing two sides of the same transaction with at least one of those sides being unaware of the fact, agents demanding "luck money" from vendors and sales prices being artificially increased through conspiratorial pre-agreed bidding-up
- The industry's current code of practice is irrelevant due to a fear-induced 'code of silence' that has led – to the review team's knowledge, at least – of not one recorded complaint being made to an official body or sales house
- The BHA has legitimate reasons to be considered the rightful regulator of the bloodstock industry, whose members should agree to fall under its jurisdiction
- Efforts must be made to establish the support of key bodies in Irish racing and bloodstock
The extensive report was commissioned in June 2017 after the BHA board became concerned with what chief executive Nick Rust describes in his report introduction as, "the perception of unethical practices and experiences" that might damage the sport's already fragile ownership base.
Felice's review has given a vote of confidence to a large percentage of those engaged in bloodstock but it has also confirmed the BHA's perceptions to be harsh realities.
Outlining his overall impressions early in the report, Felice writes: "I would like to personally thank all the interviewees who agreed to participate in the review for their time, openness and co-operation during the process. The level of support was excellent and encouraging for the prospects of the bloodstock industry moving forward.
"The review found the bloodstock industry was generally a safe environment in which to buy and sell bloodstock and the vast majority of industry participants appear to display high standards of integrity.
"However, the interviewee feedback also revealed a widespread knowledge and acknowledgement of unethical practices being conducted with relative impunity in the bloodstock industry for many years, with a small number of unscrupulous individuals being identified repeatedly by different interviewees as people who pose a real risk to the integrity and reputation of the entire bloodstock industry."
Those unscrupulous individuals are not named by Felice, who adds: "A considerable number of the interviewees alleged that they had themselves been [or had direct knowledge of others having been] victims of such practices, including many different allegations of improper inducements and payments. On some occasions these practices . . . are also unlawful.
"Whilst the review team was not required to investigate any of the specific allegations made by the interviewees (and did not have the time nor resources to do so in any event), there was sufficient weight of credible testimony and corroboration of individual allegations to leave me in no doubt whatsoever that the concerns and findings of the report are fair and justified."
Those without experience of the bloodstock sector may be shocked by Felice's disdain for an industry-wide approach to self-regulation he deems wholly inadequate and which is tied to a code of practice introduced in 2004 and most recently updated a decade ago.
Felice writes: "There can be no doubt the self-regulatory model agreed in the amended code in 2009 is not fit for purpose and requires urgent attention and overhaul. Put simply, the bloodstock industry is not being regulated in any meaningful ways as it currently stands and there was a surprisingly widespread lack of knowledge that the code even existed. This is not an acceptable or sustainable state of affairs.
"Certain categories of industry participant are, in practice, entirely unregulated, with the most notable example being agents."
A handful of senior industry figures were sent the report some weeks ago prior to last week's first meeting of a BHA-led group that brought together representatives of Tattersalls, Goffs, the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, Federation of Bloodstock Agents, Racehorse Owners Association and National Trainers Federation.
It was reported to be a positive session, with Rust praising constructive participation and stating: "I'm very pleased a clear way forward has emerged.
"The group will meet again next month to work together to develop a detailed implementation plan which will help our industry in its aim to retain and grow racehorse ownership."