“AAs a collective of jockeys, we are all together,” said Nico de Boinville after winning the first race on Friday, a clear sign that, despite the general rejoicing that the map had beaten the frost, a storm is brewing for the introduction of new whip rules by the British Horseracing Authority ahead of Cheltenham’s Festival meeting in March.
De Boinville echoed the view of Harry Cobden, the number 1 jockey of champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who described the new rules as “damned ridiculous” after riding a winner at Taunton on Thursday. Under the new regime, riders will be prohibited from using their whips in the forehand position – the most natural way for most riders to use their stick – and though there will be a four-week break-in period before penalties are imposed. enforced, a single use in the forehand position after February 6 could result in a seven-day ban, or two weeks if it occurs in a Class 1 or Class 2 event.
The magnitude of the change required of jockeys in their riding style was evident in race three, as Lilly Pinchin brought home Dame Du Soir by a neck ahead of the 4-1 favorite, Marta Des Mottes. It was an excellent ride, and as Pinchin used the whip four times in the forehand position, Dame Du Soir responded all the way to the line. But in less than two months, she would be suspended for at least two weeks for the same ride.
“Yes, en masse,” said Pinchin, when asked if she shared Cobden’s and De Boinville’s concerns. ‘We have jockeys coming over from Ireland, where that rule doesn’t apply, and we have the festival coming up. Looking at the way jockeys use their sticks now, it could become a bit of a factor. For me, I feel there is no problem with it [the whip]. I understand why the public doesn’t like it, but for us jockeys, riding the horses, it’s how we’ve always used it. Perhaps it should be looked at before being put in place.”
Harry Skelton, the 2020-21 jump champ, had no desire to reach for the whip in an easy victory over Hidden Heroics, but also expressed concern about the magnitude and timing of the changes. “This is something we’ve been doing for a long time, so it can be a problem to adapt as quickly as asked,” said Skelton. “We want to reduce the bans, but hopefully we can make the rules strict and fair.
“I think the timing is definitely an issue for the Irish jockeys and for amateurs who haven’t had a break-in period. I think now that things are being put into practice on the track, it’s a realization for a lot of jockeys what’s really to come. It’s all very good on paper, but until it’s put into practice, you never really know.”
No one wants the March festival meeting to be dominated by whip controversies, but Ian Renton, Cheltenham’s managing director, said on Friday the track had no problem with the timing of the new regime’s introduction. “It’s a decision of the BHA and the timing is up to them,” Renton said. “The BHA obviously takes all these things into account when making their decision and that’s where we are. We accept the decision and the timing.”
A spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority said on Friday that the Authority had “engaged extensive technical discussions following the publication of the recommendations earlier this year by the [Whip] Steering Committee, which itself included two leading, current jockeys [Tom Scudamore and PJ McDonald].
“We recognize the importance of working with jockeys, so we are in contact with them and their representatives to ensure they understand the changes being made through communication and education. We look forward to continuing this engagement ahead of the implementation of the new rules and sanctions, and during the respective break-in periods for both codes.”
The Professional Jockeys’ Association was contacted but had not responded to The Guardian’s request for comment at press time.
Stolen Silver Can Lift Cup
Nine of the last 18 winners of the December Gold Cup Chase at Cheltenham, including five of the last six, had competed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the November circuit meeting, so it may be worth focusing on the five horses in the 16-strong revamp with that almost essential combination of track and big-field experience just four weeks ago.
Five of the nine had finished second, third or fourth in the Paddy Power, and Il Ridoto, the likely favourite, is the only runner to make the frame in the field on Saturday last month. He has yet to prove himself fully effective on this journey, however, and December’s Gold Cup is on the new course, over another 80 metres.
Deyrann De Carjac, who was a length behind Il Ridoto in fifth, is another possibility but is a tough horse to win on so Stolen Silver (1.50) appeals as the best bet at the likely prices.
Sam Thomas’ runner was pushed back as the starting favorite for the Paddy Power and still had plenty to run when he dropped Sam Twiston-Davies out of his seat in third. He can hit the same target on Saturday, which in turn was a modest 7-pound gain for an 11-length win on track and trip in April, and 6-1 looks too big for him to add another success at Cheltenham to his record to add.
Doncaster 1.30: A tough race to judge with the two principals according to the betting – Nusret and Scriptwriter – also declared for the youth hurdle at Cheltenham, but both look more contenders at Gloucestershire and Trojan Horse, who impressed with a 10-length win at Fontwell last month , would be the main beneficiary.
Cheltenham 2.25: Epatante has been an excellent servant of connections, but the former Champion Hurdle winner will turn nine in three weeks and the up-and-coming I like to move itan impressive winner of the Greatwood Hurdle last month in a strong time might be a bit too much for her.
Doncaster 2.40: A layoff of 12 months could not be avoided Heroique de Maulde the handy Hidden Commander to a short head on his debut over British fences last month, and their rivals – including a next-time winner in fifth – were 11 lengths and more adrift. Even a small improvement for that run will make him very hard to beat.
Cheltenham 3am: We’ve all been caught was placed straight into Grade Two for his hurdles debut here last month and finished a promising third, while also pretending that this step up to three miles will bring a significant improvement.
Doncaster 3.15: The Milton Harris string is in great shape – a 31% success rate of 16 runners in the last two weeks – and new cheekpieces can provide the required improvement of Gavroche D’Allier.
3.35 Cheltenham: Theater glory released her jockey on fourth when she got back into action at Newbury but lost just once out of six completed starts over wood and may extend that fine record from what still looks like a very workable target.