Terence Blacker: We should give jockeys a fair crack of the whip

The Way We Live: Racing is still a socially hierarchical sport in which jockeys remain below stairs

Share
Related Topics

There has, perhaps unsurprisingly, been scant sympathy for the professional jockeys who have objected to new rules and penalties for excessive use of the whip. The right of small men to hit sensitive animals for human profit and sport is hardly a case for the European Court of Human Rights.

Yet the decisions currently being made by the British Horseracing Authority have implications beyond its own sport. Animal welfare – at least where the perceived suffering is visible – is no longer simply the concern of scruffy activists, and nowhere is the balance between animals suffering and humans having fun and making money more finely poised than in equestrian sport.

The jockeys are right to be annoyed. A new ruling was introduced last week restricting the number of times a horse can be hit in a race: seven times in a flat race, eight for a race over jumps, with a maximum of five strikes in the final furlong or after the last fence. It is a somewhat nerdish and reductive approach to what happens in the heat of battle of a big-money sport, but it has the advantage of clarity.

It is the penalties which reveal profoundly confused thinking. One strike over the limit and the jockey loses his prize-money and is suspended for five days; a second offence and the ban is extended to 15 days. Within three days of the new rules being introduced, one top jockey Richard Hughes, after two offences, found that his ban would remove him from the most valuable day in the British racing calendar, Champions Day at Ascot, and the internationally important Breeders' Cup meeting in America. He turned in his licence in protest.

The winner of Ascot's big race, Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon also had the smile wiped off his face when he lost his prize money of £50,000. In a driving finish for the Champion Stakes, he had used the stick six times in the last furlong instead of five.

Here is the madness: his horse Cirrus des Aigles won the £1.3m prize, quite possibly thanks to that illegal extra stroke of the whip. While the jockey paid the price, its owners and punters reaped the benefit of his alleged wrongdoing. There is something distinctly odd going on here, perhaps reflecting the fact that racing is still a socially hierarchical sport, in which jockeys, however well-paid, remain below stairs.

All sports which involve animals need to get these decisions right because the pressure on them from a public which is increasingly sensitive to certain types of perceived animal cruelty will only increase. Years ago, it was normal for a Grand National in which horses died and those which finished almost walked over the line under the flailing whips of their jockeys to be seen as a classic encounter. Now it is the suffering, not the victory, which dominates the headlines.

As for those who object on principle when a horse is forced by a human to go faster than it would like, or jump an absurdly large obstacle in a show-jumping ring, or carry itself in a fake and fancy manner for dressage , they should probably remember that all sport involving animals, with the exception of hunting, is essentially unnatural. If you remove the domination of human over animal, then the reason for horses to be bred and kept, in the developed world, largely disappears.

To head off future criticism, the BHA needs to use common sense and courage. Greater understanding is needed when dealing with what has happened in a race. If a whip is deemed to have been used excessively by the jockey, it should cost the horse the race. The owners, trainers and punters will rage, but racing and animal rights would benefit.

Ambulance chasing gone mad

When a signature on an official document needs to be witnessed by a respectable member of society, it is always rather a shock to find heading the list of acceptably sound professions is that of lawyer. Are members of the legal profession really more likely to be more trustworthy than, say, a taxi driver or a poet? The ranks of politicians, not known for reliability, are filled with solicitors and barristers who often used their training to conceal truth, rather than reveal it.

Then there is the way they earn their money. The Sunday Times has reported that divorce lawyers now offer bungs of up to £100,000 to those prepared to tip them the wink about promisingly miserable marriages. The idea developed, apparently, from the success of one firm which would slip a hairdresser backhanders for disclosing potentially profitable marital confidences from the salon.

It is no secret the divorce business is ruthless and money-led. Now, it turns it out to be downright sleazy, too.

www.terenceblacker.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform