Horses whose jockeys seriously break whipping rules will be disqualified under new plans for UK racing.
The rules will apply to runners who use four or more strikes over the allowed threshold.
Jockeys must use the whip in the backhand position only and face double the length of overuse suspensions in major races.
The changes are proposed in a report by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Whip Advisory Steering Group.
If the rules had been in place earlier this year, Grand National winner Noble Yeats would have been disqualified.
Winning runner Sam Waley-Cohen has been suspended for nine days and fined £400 for using his whip above the permitted level and in the wrong place.
The amateur jockey did not serve the ban as he had already announced his retirement.
A minority of the steering group argued that the whip should be removed for encouragement, as is currently the case in Scandinavia, but this did not pass.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said the proposals were “a real missed opportunity for horse welfare”.
Any jump jockey who hits their mount 12 or more times in a big race would have their horse disqualified under the new rules.
Flat riders would be similarly penalized if they hit their mount 11 times, although both codes would allow wiggle room if a rider demonstrates a need to keep themselves or other riders safe.
Jump jockeys are currently limited to eight lashes, flat jockeys limited to seven.
What are the main recommendations?
It is expected that the new rules will be implemented from late autumn, with a “break-in” period.
The report contains 20 recommendations regarding rules, guidelines, penalties and procedures related to the use of whipping, including:
- The use of the ProCush Whip should continue to be permitted for cheering, but only in the backhand position
- Horse disqualification will be introduced when the whip is used four or more times above the permitted level
- Raising the starting point for suspensions from two to three days and bigger fines for amateur riders
- Suspensions will be doubled for infractions in major races, including all Class 1 and Class 2 contests
- The proposed suspension for riders following a disqualification is 14 days in a standard race (instead of seven) and 28 days in a major race (instead of nine)
- Increased focus on education and improving standards of use
- A steward review committee will be established, which will assess any potential infractions
- Further objective research on the effects of whipping should be commissioned by the BHA and efforts made to explain its design, use and regulation to key audiences.
The recommendations were made following a review by a steering group, which included jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders and racetracks, as well as World Horse Welfare.
Over 2,000 submissions were made by stakeholders and the public in an online questionnaire, with around two-thirds rejecting the idea of renaming the whip, although the vast majority of jockeys were in favour.
“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,” said David Jones, steering group chairman.
Jockeys are currently permitted to use the whip in the forehand and backhand positions for cheering, but it was felt that limiting it to the backhand would make the use of excessive force less likely.
“The move to using the whip only in the backhand will be important for many riders, and the revised penalties are certainly tough,” said jockey Tom Scudamore, who was part of the steering group.
“However, I think the increased penalties will have the correct deterrent effect on those who ride.”
How did we come here?
Whip rules were last revised 10 years ago when a maximum number of strikes – seven on the flat and eight on jumps – was introduced.
Race leaders do not believe the use of a foam padded whip is primarily a welfare issue, but do accept that there is a negative perception among some sections of the general public.
A 2011 BHA review concluded that “the whip stimulates a horse and should not cause pain”, although the independently chaired Horse Welfare Board (HWB) said three years ago that “the Scientific evidence relating to the impacts of whipping on well-being remains inconclusive.” .
Proponents of the whip believe it to be a crucial tool for a rider, aiding safety and intrinsic to the activity of Thoroughbreds competing against each other.
Opponents insist that humans hitting animals is a bad look and that whipping horses is a cruel act.
Emma Slawinski, director of policy, prevention and campaigns at the RSPCA, said research indicated the use of whipping in racing increased the risk of injury to horses and jockeys.
“It’s hard not to conclude that these rule changes are about ‘optics’ and not welfare,” she said.
In December 2018 then BHA Managing Director, Nick Rust told the BBC that tougher penalties in major races were likely to be introduced.
Fifteen months later, a consultation was scheduled – later postponed due to the pandemic – after the HWB said that although the number of whipping offenses by runners had decreased, it remained “unpleasantly high”.
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