Racing: Club shows whip flexibility

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The Independent Online
The old descriptions of an intractable, unwavering Jockey Club meting out racing discipline with an iron rod were just about buried for good yesterday when its new, flexible instructions on whip abuse were announced.

This attempt to tackle one of the sport's most controversial problems was received well by just about every section of the racing industry and, more importantly, by the RSPCA. Had that organisation condemned the revised instructions -which could be perceived as more lenient -instead of contributing to their making, then another shower of bad publicity could have rained down on the sport.

Outcries have followed bans handed out to jockeys after several hard- fought, big-race finishes this year, notably those given to Frankie Dettori for whip abuse following his victories in both the 2,000 Guineas and St Leger.

The revised instruction, which comes into effect on 1 February, removes the present "trigger mechanism" which tells stewards to consider an inquiry if a jockey uses the whip more than five times. Instead, stewards will have greater discretion to look into "anything which might cause them concern", and have been given examples of improper use of the whip to use as criteria.

Decisions on "excessive" use will be determined by factors such as a horse's experience, its response to the whip and the degree of force used. Vets will be asked to examine all placed horses and a random selection of others after a race, although the fact that a horse has not been marked need not prevent the stewards finding that excessive force has been used.

It is stressed, though, that serious breaches of the instructions will bring stricter penalties from the stewards.

Toby Balding, a National Trainers' Federation council member, said: "Some of the instances of jockeys being done were wrong, but the instructions were such that the stewards were put in a difficult position: as soon as a jockey went over the required number of hits they had to have an inquiry.

"This gives the stewards more chance of using their discretion. We have been trying to eliminate abuse. Now it will be up to the vets, which is as it should be."

The Jockeys' Association secretary, Michael Caulfield, said: "We hope the new instruction results in fewer suspensions and greater understanding of a delicate and difficult issue.

"Jockeys will be pleased that the `trigger figure' has been removed as this has resulted in many unnecessary suspensions."

The Jockey Club's disciplinary committee chairman, Christopher Hall, admitted that adverse media comment on suspensions had helped lead to the search for a new instruction.

"We were already reviewing the use of the whip but there is no doubt that the press coverage concentrated the mind," he said. "Jockeys' use of the whip has improved greatly and we were satisfied that the whip is being used sensibly and in a fashion acceptable to onlookers.

"But the counting mechanism was never fully understood and on occasions has led to people being called for an inquiry when nothing has happened, which would offend anyone. Now the first question for a steward will be whether there is anything in a jockey's riding which causes concern if he sees too much use of the whip or too excessive use then they will look at it."

However, Caulfield is worried that giving stewards discretion may be a mixed blessing for jockeys. "We still remain concerned with the Jockey Club's definition of excessive frequency," he said. "We fear the new instruction could continue to result in unjust and unnecessary suspensions to the detriment of racing."