Disqualification for excessive whip use in racing could apply from autumn

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  • Disqualification of horse and jockey for instances of “clear and flagrant disregard” for racing whip rules is expected to come into force this autumn.

    The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced upgraded sanctions today (12 July), which come from 20 recommendations from the cross-industry whip consultation steering group.

    These are headlined by increased sanctions for whip offences, disqualification for the most serious breaches, plus the fact that the whip must only be used in the backhand position.

    The increased penalties include disqualification when the whip is used four times or more above the permitted level in all races, and double suspension periods when the whip is used above the permitted level in major races. The “double suspension” means whatever sanction a jockey would have received for the offence in a standard race will be doubled.

    “It is inevitable that there will be those who think we have gone too far, and those who think we have not gone far enough,” said David Jones, chairman of the whip consultation steering group.

    “I ask only that the considerable expertise that has provided its input to this process, and the scale of the task in finding consensus across such a broad range of complex factors, be considered as part of any discussion about these proposals.”

    The main recommendations include use of whip for encouragement to be limited to the backhand position only, usage to remain at seven strikes on the Flat and eight over jumps.

    The group has also recommended that a review panel is developed, which would be responsible for evaluating all rides and any necessary sanctions or actions. This would include directing jockeys to further training.

    The BHA announcement said that the recommendations are designed to be a “package of measures” based on core principals and objectives that centre on five points. These are developing rules that foster “more considered and judicious” use of the whip for encouragement, improving “style and perception” of whip use, greater focus on education and improving standards, greater consistency in application of the rules, and introducing a penalty framework which acts as an “effective deterrent against misuse”.

    The need for a review into racing whip rules was outlined in the racing industry’s Horse Welfare Board’s Life Well Lived five-year strategy, launched in February 2020. The findings were initially expected to be published that year, but were delayed owing to the pandemic.

    The whip consultation steering group presented its 20 recommendations to the BHA board on 20 June, which were approved in full. A final cross-industry consultation period will now take place, which will look at the finer details and consider how a “bedding-in” period will work.

    The BHA said its “current ambition” is that the new racing whip rules will come into effect in “late autumn”.

    “It is our view that, as a result of this process, we are continuing to evolve standards of whip use, through a regulatory approach that will be demonstrably and visibly fair in terms of what they ask of our horses and the spirit of fair sporting competition,” said Mr Jones.

    World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers was a member of the steering group.

    “It would have been easy for racing to carry out this review in its own bubble, but by including an equine welfare organisation within the steering group itself, they showed they were willing to consider other views and be asked some fundamental questions,” said Mr Owers.

    “While the group did not agree unanimously on all the decisions which were made, the whole process was a thorough one and racing should be commended for this approach.

    “Racing of horses, like all horse sport, can only continue to take place if the sport maintains the support of the public, which will require everyone in racing to justify their use of the whip in the context of horse welfare, and show that they can be trusted to adhere to and enforce these rules.”

    Tom Scudamore and PJ McDonald were the jockeys who sat on the steering group, which also included trainers, plus members of the media, Government, racing industry and horse welfare sectors.

    “The change to using the whip only in the backhand will be a significant one for many riders, and the revised penalties are certainly strict,” said Tom. “However, I believe the increase in penalties will have the correct deterrent on those riding.

    “When the whip is used in the backhand position, the natural arc in which you use it will mean that it is more frequently landing in the right place with the appropriate amount of force.

    “The result will be visibly improved racing, which has not lost the important benefits of being able to properly focus a horse at the end of a race, or when jumping over obstacles, which is what the padded ProCush whip is intended to be used for.”

    PJ added: “While as jockeys we would prefer not to have seen penalties for whip offences significantly increased, we also have to accept that steps needed to be taken to prevent breaches of the whip rules.

    “I am pleased the introduction of the review panel will increase consistency of officiating, and focus not only on penalties, but also improving standards of riding.

    “The introduction of disqualification for certain offences is a major step, but I think we all share the same hope and expectation which is that it is a rule that will rarely, if ever, need to be used as it will serve as a significant deterrent to jockeys using the whip too frequently.”

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