There have been occasions when 3I have been critical of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) so let me begin by giving credit where credit is due.
The long awaited review into the use of the whip has been published and reading through the 78 pages it is clear the committee have carried out a thorough and balanced review and full credit to all those involved.
Before we go any further let me give my position on the whip. I am, instinctively, one of those who does not like seeing a horse being whipped.
Having said that, I have only sat on a horse once in my entire life and that concluded with me flying over the top of his head. I therefore accept the views of those who do ride horses that the whip is a necessary part of the sport, so I obviously have to accept the view of those who know better than me.
It is also clear, as the report pointed out, the current whip guidelines are ineffectual, ambiguous and frankly the punishments are no deterrent to errant jockeys.
What has been proposed are clear guidelines namely no more than seven hits with the whip in a flat race and no more than eight in a jump race, with no more than five strikes after the final fence / final furlong.
The caution for misuse has been withdrawn and an entry point of five days has been introduced. Also any rider picking up a ban of three or more days will have his riding fee / % payment taken away.
Penalties will be doubled for a second offence in a rolling twelve month period.
The rule changes certainly look to be less ambiguous and the penalties are certainly more effective but do they go far enough?
Take, for example, the upcoming Champions Day races. With such massive purses on offer most jockeys will make every effort to win the race including easily exceeding the new whip rules. If a jockey is a retained rider is he going to jeopardise a lucrative retainer by restricting his whip use and possibly losing the race?
The value of the retainer is worth a lot more than his riding fee and win percentage.
Anyway most owners would, in the circumstances, make sure the rider does not lose out as a result.
Now the BHA have thought of that one and introduced a rule banning owners from recompensing, either directly or indirectly, jockeys who are fined and lose their payments.
All very good but wholly unworkable and unenforceable – any owner or jockey with a half decent accountant will be able to find a way to get round that rule without being caught.
Indeed any owner who does fall foul of that new regulation deserves to be fined and banned, not for committing the offence but for being stupid enough to get caught.
The committee came out against withholding prize money for owners and trainer or for disqualifying the horse.
Part of the argument against this seemed to be that owners, trainers and punters were “innocent” parties and should not be adversely impacted.
I would fundamentally disagree with that stance.
The jockey is employed by the owner and trainer and it is, ultimately, their responsibility to ensure the jockey adheres by the rules. Most of the big owners are businessmen and they work within the realms of corporate governance where the employer is ultimately responsible for the actions of their employees, this is no different. I would want to see the owners and trainers percentages retained as well – that would certainly encourage them to ensure their jockey rides within the rules.
In terms of fairness to punters, let’s turn that one around. A horse wins a race by a nose with the jockey on the winner having exceeded the whip regulations.
Is it fair backers of the winner win because the jockey on their horse broke the rules?
Is it fair on backers of the runner-up, whose jockey abided by the rules, that they are denied a win?
There are already offences whereby a horse can be disqualified, should abuse of the whip be any different?
I do also wonder if the eight hit restriction will be workable in NH racing. Does this mean we will see more horses left at the start because a rider does not want to risk using his quota of hits to get the horse to run?
What about horses who require encouragement to jump or change a stride coming to a fence – does that mean after eight fences they will have to pull up?
Will the same five hit after the last restriction apply equally to Cartmel (over half a mile) and to Towcester (110 yards)?
Is it right to have just one more hit allowed for a three and a half mile chase than for a five furlong sprint?
The response from the BHA is jockeys agree with the eight strike limit. Have they really? Have they really though through what it means?
I have a feeling we are going to see quite a few NH jockeys before the Stewards in the coming months.
But back to the main thrust of the report.
Yes there are plenty of questions but the recommendations are a massive step in the right direction.
Time will tell as to just how successful the new changes are.
Let’s give them a go and see how they work.