Comment: Misuse of the whip hand

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The Independent Online
WHEN Declan Murphy appears before the Jockey Club's disciplinary committee this week to appeal against his two-day ban for excessive use of the whip, he deserves the support of rational as well as passionate lovers of horse-racing.

Murphy is one of the most gifted of the present crop of outstanding National Hunt jockeys and a rider whose quiet artistry is as effective a quality as the competitive spirit of his fellow Irishman Adrian Maguire. All these gifts were memorably demonstrated in last Monday's King George VI Chase in which Maguire on Barton Bank and Murphy on Bradbury Star provided us with one of the great finishes of the past decade.

Yet no sooner had the cheers died down in the Kempton unsaddling enclosure than both men were being summoned to the stewards' room to be told by amateur officials in trilby hats that the 10 and seven strokes of the whip that Maguire and Murphy respectively were adjudged to have given their mounts after the last fence had transgressed the Jockey Club's ruling and as a consequence both riders would get a two-day ban. But what was their offence? Trying too hard to win? The punters certainly weren't complaining. And if some kind of crime was committed then where was the evidence? As far as the trainers of the two horses are concerned, there was no evidence.

David Nicholson and Josh Gifford are hard men but pure- bred horsemen. Neither of them would countenance a jockey who mistreated their charges, be it in the Gold Cup or in a selling hurdle at Stratford. And both men confirmed last week that their Kempton runners had returned home entirely unscathed by their duel.

The truth is that the Jockey Club are in a deep hole over this issue and, contrary to all sensible advice, they keep on digging. While flagrant maltreatment of horses must clearly be outlawed, there is no evidence of widespread concern over the role of the whip in racing. The public understand that racehorses, especially big, strong, staying steeplechasers, are not timid domestic pets. When you brush up close to them or look into their eyes in a racecourse paddock, it is like being in the presence of a medieval charger kitted out for war.

The beautiful beasts aren't going to be blighted for life by five or 10 strokes of a whip. Most of them come back season after season, in many cases displaying an undiminished zeal for the game that would be inconceivable if they were really being abused every time they got into a battle.

Murphy is shrewd enough to know that his protest will not - as he said last week - do him 'any good in the eyes of officialdom'. But he should not be left to make this case alone. Intelligence and flexibility have not traditionally been associated with stewarding of horse-racing but they have never been more required than they are now. When the law is an assinine one, then unless it's changed the sport itself will become an ass.