Racing: Riders rallying to Cauthen's crusade: Richard Edmondson on the simmering dispute over where and how frequently a jockey should use the whip

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The Independent Online
STEVE CAUTHEN may be undecided as to whether he should enter the witness box or man the prosecution bench when he attends the Jockey Club at Portman Square tomorrow.

Since the American jockey was told to appear before the Club's Disciplinary Committee over his use of the whip at Goodwood last week, support for his cause has grown to an extent that it may be racing's rules as much as Cauthen himself which will be under investigation.

The rider will bring with him tomorrow a supporter in the shape of John Gosden, the Newmarket trainer, and depositions from the majority of his weighing room colleagues who believe he is the victim of an unclear ruling.

Cauthen fell foul of officialdom last Thursday, when he used his whip in the forehand down the shoulder of two of Gosden's horses, a technique allowed only 'in very exceptional circumstances' since the Jockey Club acted to curb the practice in 1988.

From that moment confrontation has been inevitable, according to John Reid, this year's Derby-winning rider who is the joint-president of the Jockeys' Association. 'We didn't like it then and we've discussed it many times since,' Reid said yesterday. 'It's a just a rule that was brought in that we have to abide by and when we put our feelings across the attitude always seems to be 'we see your point, but . . . '.'

The rift is simple. Most jockeys believe the employment of the whip in the forehand in front of the saddle is a legitimate aid to navigation. The Jockey Club considers it to be both ugly in terms of public perception and largely ineffective.

'It's something that's tried and trusted,' Reid said. 'Professionals wouldn't use it if it wasn't effective and it's not cruel as you can hit a horse far harder with the stick in a downwards position. If you watched Steve using it the other day he was flicking the horse in rhythm, in style and just encouraging. Not knocking it sideways. He has the support of the jockeys and the Association on this one.'

The rallying to Cauthen's cause and questioning of the whip rules has come as something of a surprise to those at Portman Square. 'When we brought this one in it was because there was a trend for jockeys to indiscriminately slash a horse in front of the saddle,' David Pipe, the Jockey Club spokesman, said yesterday.

'And for the last four years no- one's made a fuss about it. So, presumably, for four years, they didn't have a problem. There had not been any suggestion from the Jockeys' Association, until our meeting with them in Newmarket a month ago, that this rule should be changed.'

For Gosden, tomorrow's inquiry will be as much about protecting the image of the sport as defending Cauthen, who has never been punished for his use of the whip since he started riding on these shores in 1979.

'This rule has very good intentions, make no mistake, but the issue is refining it,' he said. 'As it stands, the rule inhibits race-riding and that's not what it was intended for. Steve is not a jockey who is at all stick happy, it's not his style, and I, like a lot of other trainers, don't like to see horses knocked about. So it's not like you're dealing with a load of people who do that kind of thing.'

Gosden will not yield to the official line that the use of the whip on the shoulder is any more harmful that a stroke behind the saddle. In fact, he believes quite the opposite. 'It hurts a horse less to hit them on the shoulder than it would to give them a backhander. I think it is kinder there,' he said. 'It's more a question of how hard someone is hitting a horse.

'It's unfortunate that the business has gone this far and I just hope the inquiry is constructive and for the betterment of racing rather than an unnecessary controversy.'

(Photograph omitted)