Disqualification Option Introduced in Whip Review

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Harsher penalties will be introduced for flagrant abuse of the whip rules | Sarah Andrew

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has published its much discussed Whip Consultation Report, which, in a first for major racing jurisdictions, introduces the potential for a horse to be disqualified if a jockey has used the whip four or more times above the permitted level. The ProCush whip can be used seven times in a Flat race and eight times over jumps, and the current rules will be amended to restrict use for encouragement in the backhand position only. 

Twenty recommendations were submitted by the Whip Consultation Steering Group to the board of the BHA and all were given approval. The key recommendations will lead to the development of a review panel responsible for evaluation of all rides and any necessary sanction or action, and increased penalties for offences. This will include the doubling of jockey suspensions in major races when the whip is used above the permitted level.

The steering group was comprised of a range of industry professionals, including jockeys, trainer, members of the media and representatives of government and horse welfare bodies. According to a press release by the BHA, the panel's recommendations are “designed to be considered as a package of measures based on the following core principles and objectives”. 

These are listed as:

  • Developing rules which foster more considered and judicious use of the whip for encouragement.
  • Improving the style and perception of whip use.
  • Greater focus on education and improving standards.
  • Greater consistency in application of the rules.
  • Introducing a penalty framework which acts as an effective deterrent against misuse.

Further technical discussions will now take place with jockeys and industry participants to consider practical or logistical considerations relating to the new rules, which are likely to come into force in the autumn, though no specific date has yet been fixed.

The discussion period will finalise details such as the exact working of the review panel, and the training and education required for both jockeys and stewards ahead of the new rules coming into play. There will also be a 'bedding-in' period to allow for a transition once the new rules have been implemented.

David Jones, chair of the Whip Consultation Steering Group, said, “I would like to offer my thanks to everyone who took part in this process, from the members of the Steering Group who brought their considerable, wide-ranging expertise to the table in a manner of collaboration and positivity, through to everyone who took part in the consultation. 

“It is our view that, as a result of this process, we are continuing to evolve standards of whip use, through a regulatory approach that will be demonstrably and visibly fair in terms of what they ask of our horses and the spirit of fair sporting competition.”

He continued, “It is inevitable that there will be those who think we have gone too far, and those who think we have not gone far enough. I ask only that the considerable expertise that has provided its input to this process, and the scale of the task in finding consensus across such a broad range of complex factors, be considered as part of any discussion about these proposals.” 

PJ McDonald, one of two jockeys on the steering group along with Tom Scudamore, commented, “While as jockeys we would prefer not to have seen penalties for whip offences significantly increased, we also have to accept that steps needed to be taken to prevent breaches of the whip rules.  

“I am pleased that the introduction of the review panel will increase consistency of officiating, and focus not only on penalties but also improving standards of riding. The introduction of disqualification for certain offences is a major step, but I think we all share the same hope and expectation which is that it is a rule that will rarely, if ever, need to be used as it will serve as a significant deterrent to jockeys using the whip too frequently.”   

The review has also been welcomed by World Horse Welfare's chief executive Roly Owers, another member of the steering group, who said, “It would have been easy for racing to carry out this review in its own bubble, but by including an equine welfare organisation within the steering group itself they showed they were willing to consider other views and be asked some fundamental questions. While the group did not agree unanimously on all the decisions which were made, the whole process was a thorough one and racing should be commended for this approach.”

With a note of caution, he added, “Racing of horses, like all horse sport, can only continue to take place if the sport maintains the support of the public, which will require everyone in racing to justify their use of the whip in the context of horse welfare, and show that they can be trusted to adhere to and enforce these rules.” 

The full report can be viewed here.

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