Consultants brought into the Jockey Club by Delia Bushell questioned why it bothered with owning small racecourses instead of focusing on Cheltenham, which generates huge profits. The news that such thoughts were being aired within the venerable organisation will be shocking to many racing insiders, who have long taken it for granted that the Jockey Club is a good and careful custodian of its venues, but it reflects the “nothing is sacred” mood that prevailed under Bushell, who quit as chief executive last week after a year in the role.
“They were talking about, why we invested anything in small racecourses,” one insider recalled of the early days of Bushell’s tenure. “‘Why not spend all your investment at Cheltenham, that’s where you make most money?’”
The source said that showed Bushell’s consultants had not grasped the Jockey Club’s mission, defined by royal charter as being to act for “the long-term good of British racing”. “But these guys were spreadsheet junkies. ‘The small racecourses don’t make any money,’ they’d say. ‘Why do you own them?’
“It was just an idea that was being kicked around. But it showed they didn’t have any kind of feel for the place.”
The Jockey Club has a varied portfolio of 15 tracks, including some of the most important like Epsom and Newmarket as well as more grassroots circuits like Carlisle, Market Rasen and Nottingham. Orthodox thinking has long held that the lower-profile racecourses are needed to provide experience for horses and opportunities for trainers and jockeys, helping ensure that levels of competition are high for the biggest days at Cheltenham and elsewhere.
But Bushell was not interested in orthodox thinking, according to the source. “She was a tornado and they must have known that when they hired her. We all thought it was a perfectly good business.
“She was reaching very, very quick conclusions on people and initiatives. You have to take time to get to know the sport and she didn’t. Everything before her was crap, that was the attitude. I don’t think anybody at any meeting came out feeling better about themselves.”
Bushell’s lawyers wrote a letter to the Jockey Club on Saturday mentioning “the likelihood of imminent litigation”, according to a report in the Sunday Times, claiming she had been brought down by a “cabal of male co-conspirators”. It contained detailed denials of the allegations against her made in the course of a recent investigation, particularly an allegation of racist comments, said to have “appalled” her and to have been a misrepresentation of what she had said.
After a barrister reported to the board that he had found evidence to support some of the allegations, Bushell quit. “Given the toxicity of the working environment I find myself in, the predetermination of the disciplinary and the clear threats to my reputation, I have no choice,” she said in her resignation letter.
The Jockey Club issued a robust statement on Sunday, saying it “completely refutes the many false and unsubstantiated claims made against it, some of its members and its staff by Delia Bushell. Her departure was based entirely on the evidence from a full, fair and independent investigation into a number of serious allegations that were raised about her unacceptable behaviours, including the bullying of her colleagues.
“The Jockey Club intends to vigorously contest any proceedings she may bring. The board stands by its decision, the process by which it was arrived at and the evidence on which it was based.”
Bushell’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
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