Kim Bailey on racing’s new whip rules: ‘Public perception is everything’


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  • Kim Bailey shares his thoughts on the new whip rules and listening to those on the front line

    Racing has suffered some rather unflattering headlines over the past 12 months, such as “A year to save racing”. Attendances are crashing, field sizes are historically small, the Levy Board has warned of “challenging conditions ahead” as well as affordability checks when it comes to betting. But none more so than the impending rule announced last July on the persuader, more commonly known as the whip.

    A 20-body steering group suggested dramatic changes in its use and new penalties for jockeys if the rules were broken. The biggest change was how the jockeys held the whip when riding a finish – the forehand position was to become illegal, and only the backhand position would be allowed.

    Several months later and after plenty was written about the new rules, the jockeys, through the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), decided enough was enough and that the rules needed amending before it was too late.

    First, they felt that the forehand position was safer, easier and had less impact on the horse as they were targeting the hindquarters of their horses, whereas the backhand position led to the ribs of horses coming in line, which is an area of the horse that is far less padded than the rump.

    Discussions were held between the PJA and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The PJA pushed for retaining the backhand position when using the whip and traded the number of hits and penalties. They also insisted that the word “discretion” be removed when being applied by the stewards around interpretation of whip offences – rules are rules.

    Surprisingly, the ruling body backed down and the rules were adjusted. Many thought this to be a typical show of weakness from the BHA, but I commend them for listening to the people on the front line.

    I believe racing has come away stronger – not that all will agree. But all I now ask is let’s stop talking and writing about the whip and get on with the sport we all enjoy.

    Richard Forristal, editor of the Irish side of the Racing Post and an ex-jockey himself, said that the BHA has gone too far down this rabbit hole in an effort to placate a minority hell-bent on racing’s destruction, who have been emboldened by their succession of triumphs over the past decade or so.

    Of course, in many respects he is right but on a broader note the whip is used by nearly every rider across the discipline in the equestrian world. Public perception is everything and hitting horses or animals in general will always create a cause for worry. At least we have moved a significant way forward since I first started training.

    On a brighter note…

    Let’s move to the brighter side of racing. Constitution Hill shines like a beacon on the hurdling stage while Bravemansgame was excellent in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

    If you were lucky enough to spend a few hours in front of the ITV Racing coverage over the Christmas period, you would have seen some truly excellent racing from Ireland. Trainers Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott were hugely dominant, but what magnificent horses they have and what superb racing they produced.

    The second half of the season is now upon us, with the Cheltenham Festival fast approaching and the evenings beginning to lengthen. Trainers are currently full of horses but the future is not looking so bright with staff shortages, pay rises and less prize money just some of the more prominent issues we’re facing.

    Let’s not walk around with our eyes closed – we need to do something as racing still has so much to offer.

    What do you think about racing’s new whip rules? Let us know your views at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, local town and county to be considered for publication in a future issue of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 12 January, 2023

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