Racing: Riders fear rule is six and out: Richard Edmondson reports on the hostile reception for the Jockey Club's new guidelines on use of the whip

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The Independent Online
THE STICK that stings horses into action had a similar effect on Britain's riders yesterday, when the Jockey Club confirmed that new rules would be brought in to tighten up the use of the whip.

Most contentiously, the number of times a jockey can hit a horse - 'the trigger mechanism' - before risking suspension will be cut from nine to five when the guidelines come into force on 5 July.

This will appease the RSPCA and all those who believe thoroughbreds are put under far too much pressure in racing. But all the indications yesterday were that it had created a rift between Portman Square and Britain's weighing rooms.

'If owners and punters see a horse could have won but wasn't allowed to because his jockey had to stop using his whip, well they're going to get a bit grumpy to say the least,' Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, said. 'When jockeys start coming in and saying 'I could have won but . . .', that's when there's going to be trouble, and once you start interfering with a sportsman's will to win and make them ride in the fear of suspension, that's when you begin to get on the wrong road.

'Up until 5 July we'll try to get this guideline changed. It's four months away, and it will be a fairly unpleasant four months between the jockeys and the Jockey Club, because there's not much empathy between the two organisations at the moment. I just fear that we're in for a very unpleasant time.'

The jockeys feel hurt that the recent canvassing of their opinions has led to naught; the RSPCA is delighted that distress to horses is to be lessened.

The society believes whipping causes long-term damage, both physical and mental, to thoroughbreds, and even though an animal may show no weals or other surface sign of injury after a race, hidden and deep bruising may have occurred.

Stan Mellor, the first man to 2,000 winners as a National Hunt jockey and a leading critic of overuse of the stick, considers his latter day counterparts have reacted like any other group of professionals questioned about their methods.

'Restrictions will always cause rows, and jockeys don't like being restricted,' he said. 'Nobody likes that. If someone was to say to you as a journalist that you could only write in a certain way you wouldn't like it. It's like putting a terrier on a lead.'

Mellor sees the day when use of the whip, in the more aggressive forehand position anyway, will be outlawed. 'I think the time will come when the whip is just used in the backhand,' he said. 'I think one day people will look back and see these as barbaric times.'

The rules mean, inevitably, that even more responsibility will be assigned to local stewards, who will now have to adjudicate on both more individual cases and a wider breadth of penalties.

Caulfield, and the jockeys, are not the only ones who wonder whether the local men are up to the job. 'The Jockey Club have said themselves that if the stick is used or applied correctly it's no problem, so why the need for this absurd guideline that will only cause mass confusion among local stewards?' Caulfield asked.

'They couldn't cope with the last guideline so I dread to think what the poor chaps will make of this. I've almost as much sympathy for them as I have for the jockeys. The Jockey Club must think the moon is green if they believe this rule can be administered.'

Caulfield warned that dissent from his members would now become more vocal. 'I think there has been a silent majority until now, including some of the most experienced jockeys in racing, men who are recognised as never breaching the instruction and who will now be endangered.'

The riders will try to get the instructions reversed, but they know history shows they are marching down a cul-de-sac. 'The Jockey Club haven't got the most outstanding record in changing their minds,' Caulfield said. 'I'm sure they came out after the Betting and Gaming Act in 1961 (which put the much-criticised bookmakers' contribution to racing in place) claiming it was a great day for racing.

'You wouldn't even bet somebody else's money in getting this recommendation overturned, but as long as there human beings involved and we can talk, there must be a chance of the decision being reversed.'

While the jockeys appear to be at the peak of their militancy, it must be remembered that they were similarly distressed when 'the trigger mechanism' of 10 strokes was introduced five years ago.

In the interim, there have been many occasions when a jockey has been banned after a winning performance and then delivered the sentiment that the ends justified the means. That if a prize was at stake, the maximum allowable hits would be exceeded.

While the Jockey Club has both enraged riders and placated those who see cruelty in the sport in one series of rules, the ultimate sanction has yet to be put in place. The real attitude of racing's rulers will only be known when they address the subject of whether a horse should be disqualified if its rider has committed a whip transgression.

----------------------------------------------------------------- ABUSE OF THE WHIP - THE NEW RULES ----------------------------------------------------------------- - Training for apprentice and conditional jockeys on whip use - Report submitted to the stewards if a horse is wealed - Use down the shoulder in forehand position only in exceptional circumstances - Further research into whip design and methods of assessing injury - Hits necessary to trigger consideration of a stewards' inquiry reduced to six or more - Six-hit rule applies throughout a Flat race or after penultimate obstacle over jumps -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)