By T. D. Thornton
Effective Aug. 1, from the quarter pole to the finish wire, Maryland jockeys will be limited to six whip strikes–either overhanded or underhanded–with no more than two of those blows in succession without giving the horse a chance to respond. Prior to the quarter pole, jockeys will be allowed an unlimited number of strikes, provided they are delivered in an underhand manner, which is considered less harmful to horses.
The Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) unanimously voted to approve the policy modification during its Thursday teleconference meeting. It's based on a regional idea proposed in May by the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association to create uniformity in whip rules among the mid-Atlantic tracks, although each state's racing commission still must choose whether to adopt the recommendations either in part or in whole.
MRC executive director J. Michael Hopkins explained that for right now, the voting-in of the new policy is to be a guide for Maryland stewards, similar to the way the current discretionary policy that got implemented in January at Laurel Park (10 strikes total, no more than three in succession) is being used.
For the new policy to be backed by an official MRC rule, Hopkins said, the commission must next craft a proposed schedule of penalties that will have to be voted upon at a future meeting.
“The intention is not to limit the use of the whip, but bring it more under control,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins added that Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia are the other regional jurisdictions where the new policy is expected to be acted upon and possibly implemented.
In crafting the mid-Atlantic policy, Hopkins said industry stakeholders took into consideration that jockeys have different safety and horse-encouragement needs depending on the size of each racetrack. What is appropriate on ovals less than a mile in circumference–like at Charles Town or Timonium–might not be right for the wide, sweeping turf course at Colonial Downs.
After the vote, during the public commentary session, Steve Koch, senior vice president of racing for The Stronach Group, which owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, said his company does not support this particular initiative because it looks “quite different” from what has been proposed in a number of other jurisdictions, and thus does not promote the desired goal of nationwide uniformity.
Mindy Coleman, an attorney representing The Jockeys' Guild, also voiced objections after the vote was taken. She said the policy was “too restrictive and limits the jockey's ability to communicate with the horse and encourage [it] to achieve its maximum placing.”
Coleman added that, “We're willing to agree to the proposal if the rider was allowed to use the riding crop [without limitation] in the underhanded fashion to the eighth pole, and restricting the use of the riding crop six times in the overhand fashion throughout the race.”