In a debate often distorted by high emotion, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) merits congratulation for achieving so temperate a compromise between opposing extremes in announcing new whip rules yesterday. On the one hand, none could doubt that the new regime, to be introduced on 10 October, will be much firmer; on the other, in gaining clarity, it has almost certainly gained in fairness, too.
No jockey who can count to eight will be able to pretend any uncertainty as to where he stands; and nor should any rider be quite so tempted to flout the rules when the stakes are raised in a big race. Sure enough, the revised regulations received a guarded welcome both from jockeys and animal welfare groups.
They reflect recommendations by a review group first convened 10 months ago, whose work obtained heightened significance after public distress over Jason Maguire's riding of Ballabriggs in the John Smith's Grand National in April. In a ground-breaking policy shift, the suspension Maguire picked up that day would now – almost certainly – not only be extended, but also be compounded by forfeiture of his share of the prize-money.
Some argue that only disqualification of the horse itself – so extending punishment to its owners, trainer and backers – will convince riders to respect much reduced thresholds in the biggest races. But the onus is plainly with jockeys themselves to embrace an implicit behavioural agenda, or risk the eventual abolition of the whip altogether. After all, riders such as Paul Hanagan and Kieren Fallon – first and second in the table, with over 1,600 rides between them this season, and both very rare transgressors – have shown that sound discipline is not just consistent with success, but more likely to produce it.
For now the review makes a cogent defence of the whip's retention, concluding: "Use of the whip – providing strict controls are effectively enforced – remains appropriate and necessary for the safety of both jockeys and horses. Use of the whip to focus and concentrate a horse, and to encourage it to perform at its best, also remains appropriate... This approach is backed by current animal welfare science."
At the same time, it was acknowledged that the existing penalty structure demonstrably represented an inadequate deterrent. All interest groups consulted agreed that something had to be done.
Frankie Dettori, suspended nine days for striking Rewilding 24 times at Royal Ascot in June, endorsed the new rules. "I am not proud of having fallen foul of the whip rules in the past, but I have never harmed a horse," he stressed. "These new rules are easy to understand, which will help all jockeys ride within them."
Tony McCoy, champion jockey for the past 16 years, had issues with the whip in earlier years but feels that his forceful style can still thrive within narrowed parameters. "The Professional Jockeys' Association has worked closely with the Authority on the review and I hope my colleagues embrace the proposed changes as being in the best interest of the sport," he said.
Though disappointed use of the whip in the forehand position has not been prohibited, the RSPCA offered a "cautious welcome" to the changes. Its equine consultant, David Muir, noted that their other five recommendations had all been adopted. "We hope these changes will mean that the few jockeys who have misused the whip will think twice in future," he said. "Otherwise they are setting a bad example, and making the sport appear cruel."
* The whip may be used no more than eight times in a race over jumps; seven times on the Flat.
* The whip may be used a maximum of five times from the final jump; or from the furlong pole on the Flat.
* Stiffer punishments will apply. Minimum five-day ban for breaching frequency limits. The previous minimum was a caution.
* Jockeys suspended for three days or more will forfeit their riding fee and prize-money percentage.
* Extra punishment for repeat offenders; penalty for second offence will be double the first.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Tahaamah (5.40 Kempton) Return to this trip will suit, judged on how he travelled until worn down late in testing ground last time.
Spanish Pride (3.20 Nottingham) Caught eye on her return and absence since suggests a problem when disappointing next time; worth another chance.
One to watch
Man Of Action (Saeed bin Suroor) Gave the impression he is still thriving when caught in traffic in the Cambridgeshire.
Where the money's going
With conditions increasingly tempting, Snow Fairy is 14-1 from 16-1 with Coral for Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.