By T. D. Thornton
With two previous versions of an anti-whipping rule already making their ways through the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) rulemaking process, the CHRB on Thursday unveiled and unanimously voted to advance and put their efforts behind yet a third proposal. The key points of the new measure would limit the total number of underhanded whip strikes to six within a race, with no more than two of those hits in succession before giving the horse a chance to respond.
“We’ve just passed [to the 45-day public commentary period] the most restrictive whip rule in North America, and probably, maybe in the world,” CHRB chairman Gregory Ferraro, DVM, said after the voting. “I realize at this time that no one is happy, including me. But we’ve gotten to the point where we had to move. Somebody has to be first. We’d like to see a national rule. We’d certainly support it.”
The proposed penalties for jockeys who violate the rule are as follows:
“Absent mitigating circumstances, if a jockey or exercise rider rides in a manner contrary to this rule, the stewards shall impose a maximum fine of $1,000 and a minimum suspension of three days…. The jockey or exercise rider shall not be penalized if, in the opinion of the stewards, the use of the crop was necessary for the safety of the horse or the rider.”
The above-stated penalty originally read “minimum fine of $1,000,” but was switched to “maximum fine of $1,000” via a CHRB amendment out of concern for riders at smaller tracks who would face a financial hardship compared to jockeys who ride for bigger purses at larger venues.
The proposed rule also has a “correct uses of the riding crop” section that states a whip is to be used:
“1) In an underhanded position with the crop always at or below the shoulder level of the jockey; 2) Showing or waving the crop without touching the horse; 3) Tapping the horse on the shoulder with the crop in the down position while having both hands: A) Holding onto the reins; and B) Touching the neck of the horse.”
Just showing the whip to the horse or tapping it on the shoulder will not count against the number-of-strikes portion of the proposed rule.
Other restrictions include prohibitions on using a crop “on any part of the body other than the shoulders or hind quarters.”
The post parade, the post-race gallop-out and “during training” are also specifically off-limits to whip usage, according to the proposed rule.
And raising welts, breaking the skin, or whipping after a horse has achieved its maximum placing and/or is not showing any response to it are all violations of the proposed rule.
The 5-0 vote came after consideration of nearly 90 minutes of testimony from stakeholders and commentary from the public. National representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild, plus California-based riders, track executives, horsemen’s advocates, and anti-racing activists all had three-minute turns at the microphone.
One commenter caused a mild disruption by challenging CHRB commissioner and retired Hall-of-Fame jockey Alex Solis to absorb a few blows of the so-called cushion crop in public to determine if such a whip really hurts less than a traditional leather version (Solis declined, saying he has already conducted a similar self-test in private).
Chairman Ferraro was diligent about reminding the stakeholders and public commenters that yet another round of input on the subject would loom at a future CHRB meeting before a final vote on the measure would be taken, which helped to keep the long line of speakers flowing.
It was prudent of Ferraro to do so, because in reality, very little new ground was covered by either whip reform supporters or dissenters.
As in past public discussions, jockeys professed their love and respect for the animals they ride while the anti-racing activists cited alleged inhumane practices pertaining to whip usage and the sport in general.
“Perception versus reality” aspects were debated, and Jockeys’ Guild representatives warned of unspecific “catastrophes” that could arise if the whip gets forbidden as a tool.
Arguments were presented about how jockeys riding without whips could lead to a significant erosion of betting handle (although no metrics were supplied to back that point up), and the severity of the penalties causing hardships to riders was also a hot topic (as evidenced by the amendment that changed the level of the fine).
And—as has been the case since the CHRB proposed its first whip-reduction version of a rule back in March—there were multiple calls from various stakeholders to delay voting on the issue because not enough data had yet been gathered.
Vice chair Oscar Gonzales pointed out that at the November CHRB meeting, it had been his suggestion to table the whip rule motion so commissioners could gather more info before the Dec. 12 meeting.
But Gonzalez explained his “yes” vote to move the process along on Thursday by stating that “For this industry to get better, we have to have a conscience. And it is the public that is going to help remind us what this is about…. We hope other jurisdictions follow the California lead.”
Commissioner Wendy Mitchell said prior to her vote that even though she has only served on the board for three public meetings, she recognizes the need for jockeys to be better represented during the rulemaking process. But still, she added, the time has come for action on making a new whip rule.
“I think this is an incredible optics issue, and that we do need to address this sooner rather than later,” Mitchell said.
The version of CHRB Rule 1688 that is currently on the books limits a jockey’s use of the whip to three times in succession before pausing to give the horse a chance to respond. There is no limit to the total amount of strikes within a race. When this rule went into effect in 2015, it was, at the time, also billed as the most stringent anti-whipping rule in the nation.
Soon after Thursday’s vote, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement that read, in part, “Beating horses to make them run faster should never be allowed, under any circumstances. Whipping a horse two times in succession instead of three is still beating a horse. Striking a horse with the whip in the downward position is still beating a horse.”
Aaron Gryder, a jockey of 32 years who currently rides on the Southern California circuit, testified at the meeting that “As riders, I think we all obviously need to improve…. But we [also] need to definitely educate others. There’s misconception of what racing is, and how [well these horses] are treated …I know there’s some [people] that have an agenda, and are not looking to help us with a solution. And we need to reach out and find a solution together.”
No Lasix for 2YOs in New House Rules at SA, GGF
The CHRB unanimously approved a signed raceday medication agreement between The Stronach Group tracks and the Thoroughbred Owners of California that will, among other restrictions, bar 2-year-olds from racing on Lasix at the Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields winter/spring meets.
2020 NorCal Dates
The CHRB approved the following 2020 Northern California schedule (per custom, the calendar is allocated in blocks of dates, not actual race days):
Golden Gate Fields (GGF): Dec. 18, 2019-June 16, 2019
(One week further into June than in 2019)
Pleasanton: June 17-July 14
Sacramento: July 15-Aug. 4
Santa Rosa: Aug. 5-18
Ferndale: Aug. 19-Sep. 1
(First week will not overlap against Golden Gate, like in 2019)
GGF: Aug. 26-Oct. 6
Fresno: Oct. 7-20
GGF: Oct. 21-Dec. 15