By Bill Finley
California racing regulators, who have long sought measures that would limit the use of the whip, announced Monday that a set of more restrictive rules will be implemented starting Oct. 1.
The rules were approved June 11 at a meeting of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) ,but could not go into effect until undergoing a regulatory review process.
The new rules will bring about three major changes:
(*) Riders cannot use the crop more than six times during a race, excluding showing or waving the crop or tapping the horse on the shoulder.
(*) Riders cannot use the crop more than two times in succession (within the six-time limit) without giving the horse a chance to respond before using the crop again.
(*) The crop must be used in an underhanded position with the crop always at or below the shoulder level of the jockey.
“Most of the riders are not happy about this,” said Flavien Prat, who is coming off a riding title at Santa Anita. “I’m for a change, but I think we have gone from one extreme to another. We have gone from no restrictions to pretty much no whip at all. Having a restriction is fine. It would be nice to have a restriction on how many times you can use the whip, something in the middle.”
The whip will still be allowed to be used when there are mitigating circumstances, such as when the jockey feels its use is necessary because of safety concerns.
Under current rules, a jockey must give his or her horse a chance to respond after using the whip three times in succession, which is the only major restriction when it comes to whip use.
Though he was aware that it was just a matter of time before the rules were enacted, Darrell Haire, a Jockey’s Guild Regional Manager whose territory covers California, was not pleased with Monday’s news.
“The riding crop is a valuable tool,” Haire said. “It’s part of the art of race riding, how you switch sticks and how you encourage a horse. It helps you get the most out of a horse. It’s going to hurt everybody, starting with the jockeys because they won’t be able to do their job. It will hurt the owners, the trainers, the fans, the bettors. It’s going to affect everybody. We have tried to compromise and believe they could have come up with something more reasonable.”
Starting Oct. 1, any jockey that violates the rules will be subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 and a minimum suspension of three days. However, the CHRB has recommended to stewards that they impose lesser penalties at first and allow for a transition period. The stewards are set to meet with the riders before the rule goes into effect in order to explain the regulations and answer any questions.
“…the CHRB is recommending to the Boards of Stewards that they should, for a reasonable period of time, use the “mitigating circumstances” language to employ the current penalty structure–lighter penalties–in order to make the transition to the amended rule less disruptive to jockeys, in particular, as well as all stakeholders and the wagering public generally,” read the statement from the CHRB.
The new rules will mean that California will have the most restrictive regulation in the U.S. when it comes to the whip, but that won’t last long. Starting with the 2021 season at Monmouth Park, jockeys in New Jersey will not be allowed to whip a horse, with the only exception being when there are safety concerns.
California appears to be heading in that same direction. CHRB Executive Director Scott Chaney has said that he would like to see whip use eventually eliminated all together. The CHRB’s new rules could be an interim step in that direction.
“I don’t think jockeys should carry crops. It’s not necessary,” Chaney told the TDN in April. “To me, it’s not a safety issue. That’s a red herring. Ten years from now, if jockeys are still carrying riding crops, we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.”