'It felt like the right time' says Julie Harrington as she announces plan to step down as BHA chief at the end of 2024

BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said work on the industry strategy was entering "an important and exciting phase".
BHA chief executive Julie Harrington is to step down at the end of the yearCredit: John Grossick (

Julie Harrington said on Tuesday she felt it was the "right time" to leave her role as chief executive at the BHA after the shock announcement she is stepping down at the end of 2024 after four years leading British racing's governing body.

She said she had made the decision "some time ago" but had agreed to stay on until the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition to the next chief executive.

Harrington becomes the latest and most high-profile figure in British racing's leadership to reveal they are leaving their role in the last few months.

Only last week it was announced that Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale is also leaving his job at the end of the year, while Racehorse Owners Association chief executive Charlie Liverton and his counterpart at Great British Racing Rod Street are other recent departures.

The BHA's announcement also said that chairman Joe Saumarez Smith will step down at the end of May 2025 and that the recruitment process for his replacement began last month. 

Harrington said: “With so much now in place to develop and grow the industry strategy, which will secure a brighter future for British horseracing, it felt like the right time to move on and let someone else steer the sport through its next exciting phase.

"It has been a huge privilege to lead the BHA during what has been a period of real change as the sport has developed and implemented shared strategies for a sustainable future, and an ability to speak with one united voice."

Harrington said she had loved working in horseracing and that she hoped the sport's stakeholders would "continue to work together cooperatively".

She added: “I am confident that if the sport continues to foster the sense of unity and shared purpose that we have developed over the past few years then great things can be achieved."

Levy Board reserves were vital in keeping racing going during the height of the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic presented a unique set of challenges to the BHA and horse racingCredit: Edward Whitaker

During her time as chief executive, Harrington had to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 on British racing, as well as challenges to the BHA's position as governing body which led to changes to the sport's governance structure and the start of work on an industry strategy.

She was also central to the sport's lobbying efforts with the government over its gambling review including the threat of affordability checks on punters to racing's finances. 

That included talks with bookmakers over reforms to the levy system which broke down late last month when prime minister Rishi Sunak  announced a snap general election.

The BHA has also come under criticism during her tenure over issues including new whip rules and the controversial changes to this year's fixture list, such as the introduction of Premier racing. 

The BHA said it would shortly appoint headhunters to oversee the recruitment process for a new chief executive, which will start this week.

Its nominations committee, currently chaired by Saumarez Smith and including BHA directors David Jones and Raj Parker along with Racecourse Association chair Wilf Walsh and ROA president Charlie Parker, will then make recommendations on the new chief executive to the BHA board. 

The bedding-in period for the new whip rules on the Flat begins on Monday
The BHA came under criticism during Julie Harrington's tenure for its changes to the whip rulesCredit: Alan Crowhurst

Harrington added: “Although I took the decision to stand down some time ago, I have agreed to stay on until the end of year to allow a smooth transition to a new CEO.

“The BHA board is already engaged in the search for Joe’s successor as chair and informing the board of my intentions now gives the nominations committee the opportunity to plan an orderly handover, consider the complementary skills of candidates and allow the new chair to be part of the final stages of CEO recruitment.

"British horseracing is one of the cornerstones of our sporting and cultural heritage. I will be forever thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of it, both during my tenures at Northern Racing, on the BHA board and most recently as CEO of the BHA. I wish it every success in the years to come."

Harrington became BHA chief executive in January 2021, succeeding Nick Rust. She joined the governing body from British Cycling where she had also been chief executive.

Nick Rust: wants racing's leaders to go further to stop the sport declining
Nick Rust: Julie Harrington's predecessorCredit: Edward Whitaker

She had previously been a BHA board member between 2014 and 2019 as well as a senior executive with Northern Racing – one of the forerunners of Arena Racing Company – for eight years, including a spell as managing director of Uttoxeter.

Saumarez Smith added: "Julie has been a fantastic chief executive for the BHA and has done a huge amount for the industry since her appointment. We have been lucky to have her in charge and she will be difficult to replace. I am grateful she has agreed to stay on to the end of the year to allow us to recruit her replacement and to ensure a smooth transition.

“During Julie’s tenure we have completely changed the governance of the sport and the BHA’s role within it. Her influencing skills, often behind-the-scenes, have been key to that change and also in the positive adjustments made to the Gambling Act white paper that posed such a threat to our sport.

“Four years at the top of any sport demands total focus, concentration and enormous amounts of energy and Julie has delivered all of these, in what at times has been a challenging stakeholder and political environment. I, and the BHA board, fully understand why she has taken this decision now and wish her every success in her future roles." 

The key moments during Julie Harrington's time as BHA chief executive

August 2020 The BHA announces that Julie Harrington is to succeed Nick Rust as chief executive.

January 2021 Harrington takes over from Rust with an in-tray including recovery from the Covid pandemic, the parlous state of the sport's finances and dealing with the government's recently-announced gambling review.

July 2021 Full crowds are able to return to British racecourses after the government lifts Covid restrictions.

October 2021 There are calls for fundamental changes to the way British racing is governed after talks between Arena Racing Company and the Horsemen's Group over a commercial agreement are scuppered when the BHA says it cannot vote through rule changes without unanimity.

November 2021 The failure of those talks leads to radical changes to the way British racing is run being proposed to the BHA board. Under the proposals, racecourse representatives and horsemen would hold greater sway in non-regulatory and commercial decisions, such as the fixture list, while the BHA would instead be relegated increasingly to racing's regulator.

December 2021 Harrington hails the bravery of Bryony Frost in the wake of the guilty verdict on charges of bullying handed down to Robbie Dunne following her complaint against her fellow jockey.

March 2022 It is announced that BHA chair Annamarie Phelps is to leave in May but the organisation is set to retain its role as both governing body and regulator. 

June 2022 It is announced that the sport's leaders have pledged to work together to set a long-term strategy and priorities for the British racing industry. 

June 2022 Harrington comes under fire after her decision to shelve the BHA's proposals to take 300 races out of the 2023 programme for "the greater good", with the National Trainers Federation voicing its "extreme disappointment" and "significant concerns" over the process.

September 2022 A group of senior figures announce there is "an appetite for fundamental change" to the way in which racing is "structured, presented and promoted" from 2024 following a two-day summit in London.

November 2022 The BHA board becomes the sport's ultimate decision-making body as a new governance structure for British racing is agreed.

January 2023 Controversial new rules limiting the use of the whip and introducing new penalties come into force following a long period of consultation.

April 2023 The government's gambling white paper is finally published, with Harrington voicing concerns about how frictionless the affordability checks set out in the proposals will be.

May 2023 The governing body reveals plans for a new Premier tier of racing, a two-hour Saturday shop window for the sport and the trial of six Sunday evening floodlit fixtures in 2024.

October 2023 The BHA unveils 170 new Premier racedays for 2024, part of the biggest shake-up to the fixture list in recent memory.

October 2023 Major changes to the Grand National, including a reduction in the maximum field to 34 runners, are endorsed by the BHA.

December 2023 Harrington tells the Gimcrack Dinner at York that a lack of transparency over the way money flows through the sport is causing suspicion and impeding progress, and that British racing felt like "driving a Ferrari with the handbrake on" due to a reluctance to embrace change.

December 2023 The BHA issues apologies on behalf of British racing after a report finds alarming levels of bullying and sexual misconduct in the sport.

May 2024 Months of negotiations over a new levy deal between British racing and bookmakers are scuppered at the 11th hour as Rishi Sunak calls a snap general election.

Read this next:

'She’s done a lot during a challenging time' - industry heavyweights pay tribute to outgoing BHA chief executive Julie Harrington   

Was Julie Harrington a good leader of British racing? It's complicated 

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