Nick Rust, the BHA’s Chief Executive, will step down at the end of the year after nearly six years leading racing’s governing body.
Rust said he had made the early announcement to allow his successor to be recruited.
On a day of significant management change for racing, Rust’s departure followed news hard on the heels of a statement that the Jockey Club’s chief executive Paul Fisher will step down next month.
Chief Executive Nick Rust has led British racing’s governing body for the last five years
Rust, who lost his first wife Margarita after a long illness at the end of 2018, said: ‘I’ve spent much of the past year reflecting on my situation after my personal bereavement at the end of 2018.
‘I wanted to let the BHA know my decision and plans well ahead of leaving to allow plenty of time for a successor to be identified and appointed.
‘This is a fantastic job leading a team of passionate, hard-working people who want racing to have a prosperous and sustainable future as a clean, fair sport that looks after its horses and its people.
‘You demonstrated that visibly with all the effort you put in to resolve the equine flu problems last year but I know how much more unseen work is going on across the BHA to progress our sport. I am hugely proud of what you do for British racing and thank you all.
‘With the committed support of our new Chair, Annamarie Phelps, the BHA has put itself, and helped put our sport, in a place where we can be optimistic about our future. The foundations for success are in place.’
When appointed in 2015, Rust was seen as an bold appointment by the BHA because he had previously worked in the bookmaking industry.
After years of the sport feeling it had been outmanoeuvred by bookmakers in financial negotiations, Rust was hailed as someone who knew the inside workings of bookmaking, knowledge that would allow him to greater edge in tough dealings.
One of Rust’s biggest achievements was a change to the Levy allowing to give the sport a cut of offshore betting turnover.
There have also been more difficult moments. The BHA’s decision to briefly shut down the sport a year ago after cases of equine flu were detected split opinion and racing regulator has also been accused of being too influenced by opinions outside the sport on issues of equine welfare.
That topic will be further advanced before Rust departs with the newly created Horse Welfare Board due to unveil its strategy next month with particular focus on its review on whip use.
Rust always recognised that the position of BHA chief executive had a shelf life so his departure on Tuesday was a surprise rather than a shock.
Reflecting on achievements he has overseen during his tenure, Rust said: ‘The industry’s Horse Welfare Board which the BHA and our members set up only eight months ago is finalising an ambitious strategy for further improvement of racing’s exceptional standards of care for our horses.
‘For me, it will be a landmark moment after an unrelenting focus on this issue over the past few years. I’ll begin the process of implementing the plan to deliver the BHA’s part of the strategy, but given my decision, it’s the right time for someone else to pick up the challenge of delivering on these ambitions through a programme of work we expect to take five years or more.
‘The BHA has also completed some other important work over the past few months, which I have personally championed.
‘We published the review of the buying and selling of horses just before Christmas. We have established a safeguarding team to protect young and vulnerable people in our sport. Our new approach to raceday stewarding is bedding in and the industry is picking up the challenge on diversity and inclusion as we saw so vividly in 2019 through the amazing story of Khadijah Mellah and the remarkable achievements of our female jockeys.
‘If I look back further, I’m very proud of the way the sport came together to secure a very important change to the Levy in 2017. Without it, racing’s finances would be in a more difficult place than they currently are.
‘The BHA team I lead worked hard over several years to put forward the arguments to government and the industry ensured that a consistent, simple message was communicated to Parliamentarians and the media. It’s an important reminder of the influence that racing can exert when we work together in a common purpose.
‘Of course, there’s always more to do and racing faces its share of challenges as any sport or business does. The job’s never done. But my successor can look forward to the support of a top-class Chair and an expert Board, a capable and excellent team and an industry that when it comes together and works in a collaborative way can be highly effective.’
Rust departure and that of Fisher mean two of racing’s biggest bodies will have had significant changes in hierarchy and that could influence direction of travel.
Phelps only took over as BHA chair last year when Delia Bushell also replaced Simon Bazalgette as Group Chief Executive of the Jockey Club.
Fisher has worked for The Jockey Club for 19 years. He was made Managing Director in 2013 and its Chief Executive in 2017.
He said: ‘I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh challenge. I’m proud of the commercial growth, record prize money contributions and significant improvements to our facilities and the overall customer experience we’ve been able to deliver around the country at our courses, large and small.
‘I’ve also really enjoyed introducing a range of innovations and launching successful ventures, such as Jockey Club Catering, Jockey Club Services, Jockey Club Live and Rewards4Racing, as well as our Racecourse Bond that attracted £25 million of investment from racing fans and enabled us to successfully redevelop Cheltenham.
‘But most of all I’m proud of how we’ve developed so many talented people, including through the Management Academy I introduced, and the positive culture we’ve built together. I wish them all the very best.’