Saumarez Smith to replace Phelps as BHA Chair

British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Chair Annamarie Phelps is due to step down from her role at the sporting body at the close of her term in May.

The former Olympic rower will be replaced by Independent Non-Executive Director Joe Saumarez Smith, who will hold the responsibility until the end of his term on the BHA board in September 2023. 

Smith currently serves as Chair of the Gambling Strategy Group (GSG), Chief Executive of online gaming management consultancy Sports Gaming Ltd, Chairman of sports betting, casino, lottery and bingo platform Bede Gaming and part- time Shareholder Director of slots company Eyas Gaming.

He has also been involved in matters relating to the betting levy as Chair of the GSG, a topic which the horse racing industry has been increasingly vocal on in recent years – many are calling for an overhaul of the levy which would see operators pay a percentage of their revenues instead of profits to the sport. 

“On behalf of the BHA Board, I would like to express my thanks to Annamarie, who has brought a broad perspective from other sports to the BHA Board table,” Saumarez Smith remarked.

“During her time as Chair, she has laid the groundwork for significant change across the industry in a number of areas, and helped us navigate a series of challenging issues, not least the coronavirus pandemic and the BHA’s own governance. 

“The agreement of a number of core governance principles is potentially a defining moment for the industry. I look forward to continuing to work with Annamarie until the conclusion of her term.”

Phelps had previously indicated that she wanted to continue in her position as Chair of the BHA, but confirmed today that she had made the decision not to extend her position after discussions with the body, which is undergoing a restructuring to “provide clarity on the BHA’s role as governing body and regulator”.

She remarked: “This is a very important time for racing, with the recovery from the pandemic and the imminent publication of the Gambling Act Review White Paper both still very much on the sport’s agenda. 

“A significant review of the BHA is also underway, which will ensure that the BHA is future-proofed, efficient and has sufficient resources to serve racing’s needs.”

Looking back on her time as Chair of the BHA, Phelps described the position as a “great privilege” and praised the appointment of Julie Harrington as CEO, whilst achieving a set of core objectives for the governing body. 

These include recognition that the BHA board will be responsible for regulation and governance matters, leading a strategy for industry growth, retaining a level of independent representation and agreeing to review the authority’s tripartite decision-making structure.

“I want to thank the amazing BHA team for navigating the pandemic and for keeping the show on the road behind the scenes, a role that is rarely acknowledged,” she continued. “It is a remarkable achievement that no fixtures were lost to COVID once British racing had become the first major sport to resume following the initial 2020 lockdown.

“We have also dealt successfully with some serious and complicated ethical and integrity matters that have set important precedents for the future, laid the foundations for greater diversity and inclusion across the sport, enhanced the industry’s educational resources and safeguarding provisions and further increased our focus on the welfare of our horses and our people; all of which are essential to the sustainable health and prosperity of racing.

“I want to thank all those who have welcomed and supported me over the last three years, in particular those racecourses, trainers, owners, jockeys, stable staff and breeders who have shared their insight, aspirations and opinion, both here and overseas. I have loved the people, the racing and especially the horses.”

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