Racing: Jockey Club retains the whip hand: Murphy wins appeal against ban, but rule-makers refuse to bow to the backlash

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The Independent Online
DECLAN MURPHY yesterday won his appeal against a two-day suspension for his use of the whip on Bradbury Star in the King George VI Chase, but his success will not herald a retreat by the Jockey Club on its stringent whipping rules. 'We have got them very nearly right,' Anthony Mildmay- White, the steward responsible for discipline, said.

Many professionals in racing, particularly jockeys and trainers, had hoped that this controversial case might be used as a stick to beat racing's rule-makers into relaxing the tough whip regulations introduced last July. Instead, while admitting that the ban imposed on Murphy by the stewards at Kempton on 27 December should be lifted, the Jockey Club produced statistical evidence to vindicate a continuation of its stance.

'We had the benefit of ample time to consider the appeal, whereas the Kempton stewards on the day were certainly under great pressure,' Mildmay-White said. 'I would not want you to think we have apportioned blame for ill-judgement on the Kempton stewards because we have not.'

At Kempton, Murphy had been found guilty of not giving his mount enough time to respond to the whip as they went down by a head to Barton Bank in what many regard as the most exciting finish to an important jump race for many seasons. Adrian Maguire, also banned for his riding of Barton Bank, accepted the suspension, but Murphy decided to appeal on principle 'for the good of racing'.

Yesterday the Jockey Club's Disciplinary Committee overruled the local stewards' decision, finding that 'although Murphy hit Bradbury Star seven times without undue severity in the final 15 strides of the race, the horse was clearly responding to the whip'.

It is the third time Murphy has appealed against Jockey Club-imposed punishments and the third time he has been successful. On each occasion he has represented himself, whereas most of his colleagues who find themselves on the mat at the Club's headquarters at Portman Square, London, employ lawyers to speak for them.

'They're a waste of money if you're in a position to do it yourself,' Murphy said. 'If you understand the situation, there's nobody better to put your case.'

Clearly, he did so with his usual eloquence and confidence. 'I never thought I wouldn't be cleared,' he said. 'It's a guideline (on whip use), not a rule. If the guideline is interpreted in the right way then I was not in breach of it. If I was guilty, I felt we were all in trouble.'

'If I hadn't taken a stand it would have gone on for quite a while. Only a jockey can determine how much time a horse needs to respond and whether it is responding.'

Although Murphy was successful, it was as Mildmay- White put it, 'a very close run thing'.

'The King George was an extremely exciting race. The sort we hope to see on every racecourse,' he said. 'But it was no more thrilling because of use of the whip. It was thrilling because it was a close finish.'

Mildmay-White then explained the reasoning behind the Jockey Club's whip rules that have drawn so much criticism. 'The objective is to minimise injury to the horse but retain competitive racing,' he said. 'Vets are very strong that the majority of physical injuries due to the whip are below the surface of the skin, and that you can't quantify how great the injury is. And then, of course, there is the mental injury.

'Because the whip is now being used more sparingly, for encouragement and not coercion, horses are running straighter - there has been a 25 per cent reduction in cases where careless riding has caused interference. I believe jockeys are fitter and are holding their horses together better.

'No rule or law is perfect but this particular rule has worked extremely well and other countries have started to use it as a model. It has reduced injury, reduced the number of cases of interference and reduced public concern. At the same time racing is no less competitive.

'Jockeys have responded to the new instructions. Look how well Adrian Maguire has responded and he's a better jockey for it.'

On the subject of the criticism of the Jockey Club by Michael Caulfield, secretary to the Jockeys' Association, Mildmay-White said: 'Trade associations sometimes feel they have to make strongly worded public announcements if they feel their members are hard done by.

'In my view, confrontational trade unionism is counter-productive in the 1990s, if it ever was productive.

'The future lies with communication, consultation and reasoned argument.'

The Jockey Club remains firm that it has no plans to ban whips entirely. 'I'm totally against a ban,' Mildmay- White said. 'The whip is there for safety and correction and new models, that we hope will still be as effective but which will inflict fewer injuries, are soon to undergo tests.'

'We're not pandering to the public. Just taking a realistic view of what is acceptable in the 1990s.'

(Photograph omitted)