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Backhand whip use only and disqualification to be introduced in new whip rules

 
By Jack Haynes (Racing Post)
 
Jockeys in Britain will be allowed to use the whip only in the backhand position and disqualification will be introduced as the ultimate sanction for whip overuse.
 
The changes are expected to come into force in the autumn after featuring as key recommendations emerging from the sport’s long-awaited review of whip rules.
 
The switch to backhand-only whip use is intended to reduce incidents of excessive force being used and result in a narrower arm action by riders.
 
It is proposed that a jockey using the whip once in the forehand position – if not clearly doing so for safety purposes – will be suspended for seven days, with the penalty for multiple strikes in the forehand yet to be determined but expected to carry a significant deterrent.
 
Disqualification will occur when a jockey uses the whip 12 times in a jumps race or 11 times on the Flat – four above the permitted level of eight and seven strikes respectively. The intention is that the disqualification decision would be made by stewards on the raceday.
 
There will also be enhanced penalties for offenders, who will be at risk of a month-long suspension. The proposed suspension for riders following a disqualification is 14 days in a standard race (up from seven) and 28 days in a major race (up from nine).
 
The description of a major race has been broadened to include all Class 1 and Class 2 races, Flat and jumps, plus any race with prize-money exceeding £27,500 on the Flat and £20,000 over jumps.
 
Discussions will now take place with jockeys and other industry professionals around any practical and logistical considerations relating to the new rules and finalising details for the exact working of a new whip review panel – to which potential offences will be referred by raceday stewards.
 
PJ McDonald, the Professional Jockeys Association’s Flat president and a member of the whip consultation steering group, said: “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 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.”
 
Noble Yeats would have been disqualified from this year’s Grand National had the new rules been in place.
 
Fines for amateurs are currently capped at £400 but it has been recommended they will match the maximum fine of £5,000 applied to apprentices. The maximum fine for professional jockeys is £10,000.
 
If an amateur rides in a race open to professionals and breaches the whip rules they will be subject to the same sanctions applied to professionals.
 
Jump jockey Tom Scudamore, the other weighing room member of the whip consultation steering group, said: “The change to using the whip only in the backhand will be a significant one for many riders, and the revised penalties are certainly strict. However, I believe the increase in penalties will have the correct deterrent on those riding.
 
“When the whip is used in the backhand position the natural arc in which you use it will mean it is more frequently landing in the right place with the appropriate amount of force.
 
“The result will be visibly improved racing, which has not lost the important benefits of being able to properly focus a horse at the end of a race, or when jumping over obstacles, which is what the padded ProCush whip is intended to be used for.”
 
Whip offences decreased by 48 per cent and suspensions dropped by 31 per cent in 2021 compared with 2011 when the last major overhaul of the rules came in. The review was first proposed at the end of 2018 following scrutiny after that year’s Cheltenham Festival around equine deaths and high-profile whip bans.
 
Recommendations on the role of the whip featured in a report prepared by the sport’s Horse Welfare Board in February 2020.
 
In May last year, leading trainer John Gosden was named among members of the 15-strong steering group, including vets and a wide range of industry professionals who provided expertise, made recommendations, reviewed submissions and had input into the final proposals made to the BHA.
 
The core recommendations include:
– Use of the whip for encouragement to be limited to the backhand position only
– Permitted level for use to remain at seven on the Flat, eight over jumps, in the backhand only
– Development of a review panel which is responsible for evaluation of all rides and any necessary sanction or action (including directing jockeys to further training)
– Increased penalties for offences, including doubled suspensions in major races when the whip is used above the permitted level
– Disqualification introduced for offences in which the whip has been used four times or more above the permitted level in all races
 
The consultation received more than 2,000 submissions, including a combined submission from the Professional Jockeys Association signed by 130 jockeys, and through an online questionnaire, with the initial expected publication date for the report pushed back from February to July.
 
David Jones, chair of the whip consultation steering group, said: “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.
 

“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.”

Picture: The whip: rule changes in Britain are expected to come into force in the autumn (Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos).