The richest card in the history of the British Turf will today be overshadowed by an escalating row over new rules governing use of the whip.
The inaugural Qipco Champions' Day at Ascot was intended to represent a brave new dawn for the sport, but jockeys were being urged last night to resist the temptation to use it as a platform for protest – and to call off a planned walkout at lesser meetings on Monday.
A radical toughening in the definition of, and punishment for, whip offences was introduced by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) this week. Many in the industry were incensed by the timing, so close to their new showcase occasion. But the crisis intensified at Kempton on Thursday when Richard Hughes, one of the most respected and experienced riders in Britain, handed in his licence in disgust after being found guilty of a marginal breach for the second time in four days.
Hughes, whose use of the whip has long been considered exemplary, had been banned for 15 days and – unless there is a climbdown by the BHA – will not be able to take arguably his most important ride of the year, on the fancied Strong Suit at the Breeders' Cup in Kentucky next month. "Until the rules are resolved, I won't be riding," he said. "I'd rather retire. It's like telling Lionel Messi he can't use his left foot."
Paul Nicholls, the champion jumps trainer, urged the BHA to restore the former rules pending fresh talks with the jockeys. Kevin Darley, chief executive of the PJA, duly recommended that jockeys considering a strike on Monday should take their booked rides.