Simportant questions always lingered in relation to British racing’s latest row over whip rules when the cold spell arrived on Saturday and wiped out much of this week’s jumping schedule. Why now, when the new rules, which come into effect on February 6 after a four-week sleep-in period, were published in mid-July?
How far will the jockeys go to get the British Horseracing Authority to address their concerns? And what, if anything, does the Professional Jockeys’ Association have to say about it, given that two senior current riders – PJ McDonald and Tom Scudamore – were part of the Whip Consultation Steering Group that designed the new regime?
The timing question is perhaps the easiest to answer. Jockeys operate day to day, from one meeting to the next, on a schedule that must make three months feel like a lifetime away. And while the new rules — the most important and contentious of which is the ban on using the whip in the forehand position — were unveiled in the summer, the schedule for their implementation wasn’t finalized until the last week of November.
That led fee stewards to quietly talk to jockeys about what are currently perfectly legitimate rides that would violate the new regime next year when a single use of the whip in the forehand would earn at least seven days of suspension. or two weeks if it happens in a class 1 or class 2 race. As a result, jockeys have quickly realized the importance of being asked to change the habits of their riding lives.
How deep the anger runs and how far riders will go to voice their concerns remains to be seen. If it ever breaks cover to comment, the PJA may be able to shed some light, but for now the apparent reluctance to get seriously involved suggests that either the riders are less united than it appears, or the trade body has managed to keep the weighting down. room to lose. Either way, the annual Lesters Awards – shown live on Sky Sports Racing on Friday night – could be an interesting watch.
What remains truly baffling to this observer, in any case, is the timing of the change, just a few weeks before the Cheltenham Festival, now widely recognized as the biggest week of racing of the year.
It is as if the BHA learned nothing from the botched introduction of the whip rule changes in October 2011, when complaints about a harsh new regime dominated the run-up to the first Champions Day at Ascot and the day’s action was overshadowed by a £1 fine 52,000 for Christophe Soumillon – later withdrawn – for beating Cirrus Des Aigles in the feature race.
The new whip rules will now be a major talking point ahead of next year’s festival on both sides of the Irish Sea, not least as Ireland’s leading jockeys arrive at Cheltenham with no significant experience of the new regime. And when the action starts, every close finish will be a controversy waiting to happen, not least when a rider goes to the forehand and short-changes a rival who has adhered to the new rules.
There’s also, of course, the lingering question of what was so wrong with the old rules that the BHA felt it necessary to overhaul them so radically in the first place. The stroke limits of seven on the flat and eight over jumps have not changed, and the BHA itself has long maintained that the whip itself is no longer a welfare issue. For all the talk of slapping their horse, the modern foam-covered whip is more like tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention.
On that basis, going from eight strikes in the forehand that is legit to just one potentially getting a 14-day ban is a huge leap forward. The presumption must be that the forehand ban was seen as an alternative to reducing the number of strokes, which now stands at five in France and Germany, but if so, it doesn’t appear to be a compromise with broad support in the weighing room.
The new whipping regimen was unveiled five months ago as a possible way to stay in control for years to come. At least for the next few months, it seems likely to do anything but.