Chris McGrath: Authorities must uphold spirit of new whip rules - Racing - Sport - The Independent

Chris McGrath: Authorities must uphold spirit of new whip rules

Inside Track

As climbdowns go, it is right up there with Edward Norton on Everest in 1924.

And racing, as it strives to bring the whip debate back under control, could certainly profit from the character and leadership of Norton. The great man might well testify that the way up often proves a good deal less perilous than the descent.

The latest revision to the rules, announced this week, potentially restores jockeys to their use of the whip before radical changes introduced in October. All the intervening heartache, all the negative publicity, would itself amount to an ample rebuke to those who might now seem to have taken the sport on an odyssey as hazardous as it was pointless. It would be naïve, however, to imagine that the extent of the damage can now be circumscribed. In fact, the route back to base camp not only forfeits the uncharted panoramas above – which might have justified the culture shock of recent months – but exposes the sport to an abyss.

Certainly, the RSPCA's intemperate response to the British Horseracing Authority's final retreat offers a frightening measure of the drop. A press release on the day spoke of "a black day" for racing, even of jockeys being allowed to "beat horses with impunity". As ever, a better assessment was subsequently made by its equine consultant, David Muir. Nonetheless, he warned that successive amendments to the rules meant that it was "quickly becoming difficult" for the RSPCA to continue its support.

Muir has long served as a priceless fulcrum between the extremes of the welfare debate, both of which can stray into irresponsibility and ignorance. It is vital, then, that regulators and jockeys alike do not gaily abandon the improved aesthetic profile of race finishes since October.

The BHA's new chief executive, Paul Bittar, was in such a hurry to abandon "fundamentally flawed" rules before the Cheltenham Festival that nobody yet knows how the new ones are supposed to be applied. For now, those officials who will be presiding at Cheltenham a fortnight on Tuesday know only that a jockey who uses his whip more than eight times (seven on the Flat) will trigger an overall review of his ride, where he would previously have received an automatic ban.

By vesting so much in the discretion of stewards, the BHA nearly guarantees complaints about inconsistency. The guidelines being compiled must, therefore, confine discretion, unmistakably, to the very margins of a regime most jockeys have embraced, however reluctantly, to commendable effect.

The sport must not be disingenuous. Riders have to be made aware that ninth or 10th slaps, in a close finish to a big race, will not suddenly be tolerated because the stakes happen to be higher. Use of "common sense" by stewards must not mean a judicious blind eye to flagrant disregard of rules, in high-profile situations. It should simply mean that jockeys who have been caught out by the strict letter of the law – as has very occasionally been the case through the correction of wayward horses, sooner in the interests of safety than momentum – might now be exonerated.

That way, it might still be possible to satisfy Muir, and others striving to ensure that the debate is an educated one, that jockeys will still be punished for administering extra slaps merely in the hope of encouraging a tired horse. The temptation to do so in big races, in particular, could perhaps be addressed by centralised regulation of the whip at elite meetings. This would not only absolve unpaid stewards of a thankless task, but also diminish inconsistency.

Some stewards have clearly felt embarrassed by an obligation of zero tolerance; some riders, likewise, have paid a disproportionate price for what might be celebrated as perfectly responsible horsemanship. Both camps are also aggrieved by public misapprehensions. These, they fear, were exacerbated by the reform process, well-intentioned as it was – and are scarcely discouraged by the use of a word as emotive as "whip" (suggestive of some Victorian hunting crop) to describe an air-cushioned, foam-padded stick.

Too many jockeys, however, appear to have welcomed this week's developments as the end of the whip countdowns that appear to have caused them such difficulty. Yes, "common sense" should perhaps mean an inattentive horse at the end of a four-mile chase might pardonably be given a couple more slaps than a sprinter over five furlongs. But the fact is that jockeys have largely proved perfectly capable of riding at least within the spirit of the tougher rules and, as a result, achieved a more pleasing spectacle for the sport's own audience – quite apart from those who might look upon it with suspicion.

To that extent, there should be no going back. But it might yet prove hard enough just to stand still.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Portrait King (3.25 Newcastle)

Youngest runner has a corresponding profile of upward mobility, still unexposed over this kind of distance after a decisive success in a decent race at Punchestown last time.

Next Best

Deep Purple (3.05 Kempton)

After a long career in Graded races, readily outclassed rivals for his belated first handicap at Sandown in December. Only 5lb higher here and, best fresh, given a good break since.

One To Watch

The Bear Trap (Rebecca Curtis) has been learning the ropes in novice hurdles, readily holding on to fourth once headed at Ludlow on Thursday, and needs monitoring once switched to handicaps.

Where The Money's Going

Moon Dice is 14-1 from 20-1 with William Hill for the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Top conservatoire offers ‘groundbreaking’ arts degree

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week