The October meeting at Cheltenham Racecourse was nearly cancelled last year over a row with racing’s governing body about medical cover.
Racecourse bosses were controversially told only days before the two-day meeting – the first of the season at Prestbury Park – that replacements would have to be found for three medics who were due to attend to injured jockeys.
The trio had been being referred to the General Medical Council by the British Horseracing Board’s then chief medical adviser Dr Michael Turner, who was unhappy with treatment given to jockey Davy Russell at last year’s Festival.
According to a confidential report obtained by the Racing Post, Cheltenham Racecourse boss Ian Renton and director of racing Simon Claisse expressed serious concerns over the way the BHA had handled the situation ahead of the October meeting.
“Cheltenham’s management made it quite clear they felt the BHA had given insufficient weight to the very real practical problems facing the racecourse and were clear that, if the meeting were cancelled, they would have sought legal and financial redress from the BHA,” said the report.
“Both Ian Renton and Simon Claisse felt there was a ‘lack of grip’ by the BHA management team in handling these matters, with the chief executive (Paul Bittar) apparently unsighted on the seriousness of this case until ‘very late in the day’.
“As a result of this case, both Ian Renton and Simon Claisse felt the BHA’s reputation had been damaged at Cheltenham and ….. there was an urgent need for the BHA to restore confidence with the medical officers, management and wider staff at Cheltenham.”
The report, written by former Metropolitan Police detective Ben Gunn, states that the October meeting went ahead only due to the “goodwill” of Cheltenham.
Bittar has rejected claims the BHA did not recognise the seriousness of the situation.
He said: “Our objective throughout was to ensure racing went ahead at the Cheltenham October meeting, but with the necessary framework and designated standards in place to protect all parties. This objective was achieved.
“We recognise, however, that the processes followed in order to meet that objective were not without difficulties and there are lessons to be learned.”