Will Whip Regulations Effect Horse Racing Drama?
The final stretch of a closely-fought horse racing meet can match most sporting events for excitement and drama. The sight of two jockeys edging their charges on to eek every last inch of pace to secure the win highlights the spectacle of the sport. All the hours practising on the yard and the track comes down to a matter of inches on race day. The skill of the trainers, jockeys and horses are all vital, although sometimes it’s down to grit and determination of the two competitors on the day to get the victory. The whip is an important tool for the jockey to employ down the final furlong. It provides extra initiative in the horses’ tempo and pace down the stretch that can allow it to pull away from the rival.
The best jockeys know when to utilise the tactic to their benefit – employing the whip sparingly and only to generate a response out of their charge. However, the British Horseracing Authority has signalled their intent to enforce stricter guidelines on whip usage after a seventh horse was found to have put down as a result of a whip injury. The use of the whip is common in both of the two codes of horse racing in the United Kingdom – flat racing and the National Hunt. Flat races are shorter than the hurdles, usually taking place over the 5 to 12 furlong range, while jump racing is more of a test of endurance competed over 13 to around 24 furlongs.
Both codes have regulations regarding the use of the whip, which were altered in 2011. The whip can be used in a race up to seven times on the flat and eight over jumps and is strictly adhered to in order to protect the safety of the horses involved in the race. Flat racing requires speed and rhythm over stamina, which makes it a logical idea that the whip would be used more over a shorter distance than the eight times it’s available for jockeys over a longer meet for the National Hunt. It is not always the case, especially in the heat of the moment with a huge prize on the line. Native River and Might Bite were involved in a tense duel at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Jockey Richard Johnson urged his charge forward down the final furlong to pull away from the race favourite to take the crown by four-and-a-half lengths.
Johnson was penalised for overuse of his whip down the straight, serving a seven-day ban and a fine of £6,550. Under new regulations that could be imposed by the BHA, Johnson and other jockeys could face a sterner punishment in the future if new guidelines are enforced in 2019. It may take some of the spectacle away from the sport, with suggestions that the use of modern-day whips cause minimal damage to horses. Even though the guidelines are in place, in the heat of a tense battle for a major crown such as the Gold Cup or Grand National, it would be difficult for even experienced jockeys such as Johnson to avoid using the tool to get an extra fraction of pace out of his charge.
It’s a fine line to draw between the safety of the horse and providing the ultimate entertainment for spectators inside the racecourse and the viewers at home. If the jockeys do not feel they can properly get the best out of their charges with stricter sanctions it could result in less drama on the track. It’s one of the pressing issues that face the sport over the next year, with many leading experts and supporters divided over the issue. Time will tell if there’s a drastic impact.