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Will jockeys get a fair crack of the whip?

By: Rolf Johnson   July 16 , 2022

New Rules for riders. Will jockeys get a fair crack of the whip? Prohibitionists still champing at the bit.

A jockey friend of mine – a good one, he won a Grand National – dismounting after a narrow defeat was berated by an irate owner. “Can`t you use your whip in a finish, man?” To which the rider replied: “I would have done if I hadn`t dropped it halfway.”

In a nutshell, you have the debate – the efficacy of the whip and the wider question as to whether it is permissible, in this day and age, to hit an animal and call it a sport? The answer has long confounded British racing – and not only British of course: Norway and Sweden have banned the use of the ‘persuader` altogether.

Now, two laboured years on, a fifteen-strong Steering (sic) Group comprising a wide range of industry professionals including leading trainer John Gosden, went public with proposals to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

The consultation received more than 2,000 submissions, one hundred and thirty members of the Professional Jockeys Association signing up. It took ninety-eight pages to spell out the conclusions which, some critics say could have been written, in that age-old phrase dismissive of exaggerated endeavour, ‘on the back of a fag packet`.

David Jones, the chairman, said: “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.”

This is ‘how far, so far: make four strikes more than the maximum permitted of seven on the Flat and eight over Jumps and you are straightway disqualified. The other headline sanction is that the whip can only be used in the ‘backhand` as opposed to the ‘forehand` position, reducing the severity of the strike.

The head of the Steering Group, Australian Chief Regulatory Officer Brant Dunshea, trumpeted how onerous their work had been including “bringing together a whole range of people for a complex issue”: that they`d arrived at the conclusions that “there was no science to it” while insisting they had “landed on the right numbers”: the review had put us “in a global leading position”; and, oh dear, the unconsciously self-damning, “There is still work to be done”.

The reaction of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) was summed up in a single pithy phrase,. “A great opportunity missed”.

In his will Sam Hill, the great South Indian trainer of yesteryear, left me his braided leather ‘Long Tom` - and a fearsome tool it is. Nowadays jockeys are equipped with the Pro-crush, foam-padded, air-cushioned whip. But what racing will not grasp is that those obsessively opposed to the whip are opposed to horseracing of any description. They point to enduring contradictions: that it will still be all right to ‘kick a horse in the belly` for ‘encouragement` but not to slap it too often on the backside. And if it doesn`t hurt then what`s the point?

They have a point in that Rules forbidding jockeys hitting mounts in front of the stifle where there is only skin to cushion the blow to the ribs are regularly flaunted.

What was a transgression, the number of hits, becomes a crime – or that`s the way an owner who loses a race he has just ‘won`, may see it. Instead of telling your jockey to win at all costs, connections will be caught in the contradictory “Mind your use of the whip. We don`t want to lose the race in the steward`s room.” But they don`t want to lose in a tight finish either. The first to get it in the neck from erratic, irascible owners is the jockey.

The catalyst for the new laws was not this year`s Grand National when the winning jockey was banned nine days and fined £400 for excessive use of his whip driving home to victory with fourteen hits. Typically, the sentence illustrated the confusion. The jockey retired after the race and even if he wasn`t getting paid as an amateur the fine was piffling. He`s a millionaire and the horse is owned by his millionaire father – and the first prize was half a million pounds.

Would he, Waley-Cohen, do it again? Probably not if his actions meant being thrown out. But the heat of the moment? When the blood is up in finishes, to the world`s greatest steeplechase or the Derby or a Royal Ascot Gold Cup or a seller at Redcar, there`s scant time for reflection.

In the heat of battle…Lord Cardigan led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade (unsuccessful) against the Russians in 1854, spurring his horse and his troopers onward, onward into the Valley of Death. He waved his sabre at the Russian guns - as much use as if he`d been waving his hunting whip.

Three decades on from the Light Brigade`s annihilation Fred Archer who “rode like the devil was at his elbow” shot himself. The greatest jockey of his age also wore spurs or rowels as further aids to his whip, which in those days was a whalebone the length of a spear. The Tinman (‘tin` meant money) had a reputation for undue severity on his mounts who would regularly return to scale marked with bloody weals.

Archer responded by changing his style - something today`s jockeys riding in Britain are now obliged to do. In 1884 he confessed: “It`s a great mistake to knock a horse about and I`ve learnt better by experience. I rarely hit a horse more than twice in a finish and I rarely or never have rowels to my spurs. You can hurt a horse almost as much without if you want to, but it`s bad policy to hurt them.”

Sir Gordon Richards, the jockey who, over half a century later broke Archer`s records, would wave the whip at far more mounts than he ever struck – including twelve winners consecutively. Richards`s genius was a unique combination of balance and hands, strength in his lower body, and brains, combining to encourage a horse to give its best. His integrity was beyond reproach – hence his knighthood.

Lester Piggott, on the pantheon alongside Archer and Richards, under the new Rules would lose at least one of his nine Derbies – most obviously Roberto in 1972 when the commentator gave screeching vent to Piggott`s “rat-a-tat machine gun finish”.

Retrospectively Piggott lost his public honour – taxes being Lester`s problem, not use of the whip. He considered the ‘persuader` such an important part of his armoury that he ‘relieved` a French jockey of his when Lester lost his own midrace at Deauville. “I only borrowed it,” said the great man. “He (the other jockey) didn`t need it.” Lester of course had the public on his side.

For these true champions, the whip was neither the first stop nor the last resort. Two other former multiple champion jockeys, Willie Carson and Kieren Fallon welcomed the new Rules. Carson said: “I only ever used my whip in the backhand position. I wouldn`t have to change my riding style at all “- though he let slip the ‘c` word – “coercion” as part and parcel of a jockey`s role.

A definition of coercion, as opposed to encouragement, remains elusive. Fallon qualified his approval of the new measures with, “It will still boil down to interpretation between safety and encouragement. Still, jockeys now know if they go four or more over the limit they will lose the race – that`s the way you want the Rules – simple black or white.”

Except the only certainty is that there are bound to be ‘grey areas` – will bookmakers pay out twice for one?

Media, racing`s authorities, and those out to ban racing altogether will continue their bull pit scrap even after the publication of this latest (certainly not the definitive one or the last) guidance. Controversy stalks and excites racing topics; the whip and ‘interference` are hardy annuals whose lines are forever blurred. New Rules will concentrate minds, but the line drawn by the abolitionists is indelible.

Those intent on banning the sport will not rest their case – “fair crack of the whip” is anathema for them and racing`s pessimists will regard the new measures as another step on the road to oblivion. Breaking the Rules yet allowed to keep the prize has long baffled insiders and outsiders alike. It couldn`t happen in another sport – or in any walk of life – could it? Ball tampering in cricket? But the strongest emotions are reserved for action against those who harm animals. And so the debate will persist because there is no definitive answer to the ‘antis` irreducible insistence: “Does it hurt and if not, what`s it for?”

A journalist allowed himself to be hit with a whip wielded by senior jockey Jim Crowley.. “He slapped me three times in quick succession on the palm of my hand. I scarcely felt a thing. This modern equivalent is all about noise rather than impact.”

Crowley said: “There`s no way a jockey would want to hurt a horse. The sticks nowadays are fantastic and designed to startle the horse with a loud bang. We use them to create that sound, which is what people don`t realise.”

Three strokes from a whip on the palm of the hand is hardly a controlled scientific experiment. For one thing, it could be argued that easy-going Crowley is simply too much of a gentleman to launch a full-blooded assault on anyone, even a journalist, though he admitted, sardonically: “Ryan Moore or Kieren Fallon might apply themselves to the task with real venom.”

Moore and in his heyday Fallon aren`t noted for suffering fools (racing journalists especially) gladly.

Jockeys were once divided into “southern, Northern and dirty”. But steadily riding style and tactics came to be what determined races rather than skulduggery. The Knights of the Pigskin refined their methods, along with evolving veterinary practice, feed and training innovations, to stimulate the thoroughbred to run faster.

But if something can happen, eventually it will. Drawing the line at four strokes for “egregious” (fancy word for ‘appalling` and ‘horrific`) use of the whip has obvious potential for ‘mission creep` towards zero tolerance. The Breeders` Cup introduced the same Rules last year and riders adapted well. Future generations will grow up with the new Rules – I nearly said ‘restrictions`. They are about changing attitudes, and behaviour rather than simply hiking penalties.

Jockeys through the ages have exhibited their own inimitable styles. They aren`t stereotypes. As idiosyncratic as any was three-time champion Richard Hughes, well known in India, now training successfully. He has always maintained that “the last man to go for his whip is the likeliest winner” and adamant that it is “obvious” that jockeys who break the Rules to win should be disqualified.

With the new Rules ‘Hughesie` has got his wish – for now.

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Total Comments : 1
Posted by Murari Kaushik on ( July 16 , 2022 )
Was John McCririck the Journalist in question? I think - in defense of modern day whips - he made some sort of comparison to being "thrashed" at his Old School, Harrow. :-)

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