Racing: New whip strikes out with jockeys

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The Independent Online
Those within racing know it is impossible to win on the whip issue. The name of the instrument itself seems enough to inflame those who see the sport as little more than a horse-beating exercise. Thus, insiders have developed alternative phrases for the whip, such as the less offensive persuader, stick or wand, and the Jockey Club will perhaps be happy only when it is known as the "fluffy".

The men at Portman Square have been particularly fastidious in the beating area, having tightened up the whip rules to the end of the thread, and they yesterday gave support to a redesign of the tool itself.

The new air-cushioned whip has been designed by a founder chairman of the Point-to-Point Owners' Association, Jim Mahon, and is fundamentally different from the American-style piece that is currently in vogue. For a start, it is a relatively short 27in long, and there are no raised bindings or feathering. Tests have shown the Mahon whip is far less damaging to a horse's skin.

The handpiece is made up of six component fibres, while the blade is a spine of glass fibre encased in Latex rubber, looking something like a large, green breadstick. The whole gives the impression of a miniature version of the weapon that Alec Guinness used as he chased Darth Vader around spaceships.

The official launch of the whip should come a week on Sunday, at Brighton, in front of a man who took a different type of lashing yesterday, Tony Blair. The Labour leader and his Shadow Cabinet colleagues (presumably on a three-line whip) will ease their way into the party conference by watching a card which includes the Daily Mirror Handicap. If the winner of the race is carrying a Mahon whip, he (or she) will receive pounds 1,000 from The Sporting Life.

While the Jockey Club supports the new design they cannot make it compulsory, and post-Brighton the task will be to convince those in the sweaty, macho chamber of the jockeys' room that they should switch to a less imposing whip. The sissy factor has been overcome with helmets and body protectors, but on the evidence of the Epsom weighing room yesterday the advice of Hercules will once again be required.

Pat Eddery and Ray Cochrane barely suppressed their mirth when presented with the new models, while Jason Weaver and David Harrison probably did not take the prototypes as seriously as was intended. They staged a mock sword fight. "I can't have it," Jimmy Quinn added. "I'd only use it if I was riding a steering job."

The answer, and this usually works in racing, is money. The new whip, when in mass production, is expected to cost less than the one used currently, and jockeys will be encouraged to add it to their armoury should they have to partner a thin-skinned animal. It could be the difference in avoiding a costly ban. "The only way you will convince jockeys is to warn that suspensions will come if they don't use it," Bernard Donigan, an equine consultant with the RSPCA, said yesterday. "If Michael Caulfield [the secretary of the Jockeys' Association] thinks it out properly he'll tell his members they won't get as many holidays if they use this whip."

George Duffield was looking through the brochures yesterday after picking up a suspension for his ride on Lear Dancer at Goodwood earlier this month. The 48-year-old jockey was found guilty of striking his mount with unreasonable frequency and, as this was his third offence of the season, he was banned for nine days. Duffield misses the Ascot Festival this weekend but will be back for the ride on Missed Flight at Longchamp on Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe day.

Duffield thought he had done rather well. "I thought nine days was fair," he said. "If anything I thought I might get a little more."

n At Nottingham, Gary Hind complained to the stewards after Michael Clarke, the husband of the owner of a horse he had ridden, verbally abused him. The stewards deemed Clarke guilty of improper conduct on the racecourse and fined him the minimum of pounds 275.