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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Future of BHA chairman Steve Harman expected to be decided soon

Steve Harman's position as BHA chairman is set to be discussed on Tuesday
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High-level talks which could decide the future of BHA chairman Steve Harman took place on Monday as the crisis besetting British racing's governing body continued.

The BHA board is set to meet to further discuss Harman's position on Tuesday and if a decision is taken to remove him it appears increasingly likely he will take legal action.

Harman, who robustly denies any wrongdoing, has engaged law firm Mishcon de Reya, who represented Princess Diana in her divorce from the Prince of Wales.

A group of 35 leading names from across the sport, including owners, trainers and breeders, have also written to the BHA board expressing their support for Harman and raising the prospect of them calling for an extraordinary general meeting to discuss the board's actions.

The crisis has been precipitated by an investigation into allegations Harman had a conflict of interest when he twice had contact with Alex Frost, chief executive of the Alizeti consortium that is set to invest in the Tote in competition against the racecourse pool betting project Britbet, at the Cheltenham Festival.

The BHA has taken a position of neutrality in this area and concerns were raised to the BHA by Jockey Club group chief executive Simon Bazalgette, one of the driving forces behind Britbet, over Harman and Frost having lunch, with others, on a Great British Racing table at Cheltenham on the opening day of the festival and then introducing Frost to culture secretary Matt Hancock on Gold Cup day.

Matt Hancock: the culture secretary was introduced to Alizeti's Alex Frost at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day
That was against the background of sensitivity over former BHA board member Eamonn Wilmott becoming chairman of the Alizeti consortium, having left the BHA at the end of November.

The BHA board brought in a barrister to investigate what had happened. That report, the findings of which Harman is understood to dispute, found there was no discussion of Alizeti between Harman and Frost on the Tuesday.

However, what are described as inaccurate or incomplete explanations by Harman of the events surrounding the meeting with Hancock are believed to be at the heart of the clash between the chairman and the board.

Harman said the brief meeting between Frost and Hancock had been spontaneous, whereas the report said he had called Frost to arrange the meeting.

The report said the BHA chairman had also told the board he had made the introduction to Hancock because Frost, a racehorse owner and breeder, was a constituent of the minister. However, Harman had been corrected that Frost was not in fact a constituent of Hancock's at their Cheltenham meeting.

As a result the board has been discussing whether Harman has brought the body into disrepute under article 51 of its articles of association.

Shareholders of the BHA – the Racecourse Association, Racehorse Owners Association, Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and licensed personnel representing trainers, jockeys and stable staff – have been angered by the lack of consultation they have had from the BHA over both this matter and the apparent growing tension between Harman and some members of the board.

Representatives of the shareholders met with members of the BHA board on Monday having requested more information about the affair. It is understood there was no additional information given that the shareholders were unaware of.

While some shareholders are said to favour bringing action against the board, it is understood that after the meeting there was not a majority among the shareholders in favour of doing so.

However, a letter sent to the BHA by what have been described as leading figures in the sport has raised that prospect.

The letter, which has been seen by the Racing Post, describes their "extreme unhappiness" over the action being taken against Harman, describing his performance as chairman as "exceptional" and the complaints against him as "trivial".

It concludes: "If the BHA board is not prepared to focus on the best interests of British horseracing, which remains its first responsibility and obligation, then we believe that the shareholders in the BHA should call an immediate extraordinary general meeting to consider whether the BHA board is fulfilling its duties."

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If a decision is taken to remove him it appears increasingly likely that he will take legal action
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