Sport

Horses get break with 'soft' whip

RACING: Let's be fully honest; Australian racing has long been recognised as “whip happy”, but following sweeping changes in line with overriding worldwide convention, that image will cease as from the start of the new racing season come August 1.

While old-time jockeys and those not so old were lauded by Australian punters because of their vigorous whip-riding in races, (considered vital in the all-out quest for victory), now a “softy, softly” approach has been introduced.

Enter the padded or cushion whip, made of a smooth material with no protrusions or raised surfaces encasing a foam flap.

With catchy names of “Pro-cush” and the “Persuader”, in the eyes of traditionalists, they are deemed the equivalent of a feather duster compared to the long-shafted whips tipped with stitched leather flaps that have cracked on horses for decades.

Not only has the whip itself been reinvented, but the number of times it can be used in races together with the method of use by a jockey has also been completely modified.

Enter Queensland Racing Limited's (QRL) young chief steward Wade Birch, who as expected, is a zealous proponent of the new whip rules, which he explained at a forum in Rockhampton on Thursday.

“The welfare of horses must come first. These new rules have been introduced to bring about a better community standing towards horse racing in regard to the use of a whip. Stewards, administrators, jockeys, trainers and owners have agreed Australia wide that the cushion whip and it's usage in races is for the betterment of racing. It is the way to go,” Birch said.

In hindsight, while it might have been acceptable for horses to be “flogged out” with the whip during seemingly harsher eras, visual technology, which has brought racing under the microscope, has rightly highlighted an unacceptable practice of excessive use of the whip.

Now sit-at-home video race-goers will see jockeys only allowed to use a whip on a horse no more than five times before the final 200 metres of a race.

“Jockeys can't use their whips forward of the shoulder. Nor will jockeys be permitted anymore to raise their arms above shoulder height when applying the whip. Jockeys must also give their horses time to respond and it can only be used in three consecutive strides over the final 200 metres of the race,” Birch explained.

Other accepted race-practice usage of the whip by jockeys has also been given the flick under the new laws, which are similar to those long enforced in other countries throughout the racing world.

Birch advocated the successful change in styles exhibited by expatriate Australian jockeys such as top class Craig Williams when they had returned from overseas stints.

“These new whip practices work in races around the world and while some jockeys may take a little time to adjust and settle in to the new style of riding, within 12 months they will be standard practice,” Birch said.

Months ago an Australian education program aimed at jockey awareness while phasing in the new laws was launched with former champion Melbourne and international jockey Geoff Lane, now a QRL steward, working as jockeys' tutor.

Leading Brisbane jockey Glen Colless is already a fan of the cushion whip, having changed to it about 10 months ago.

“They are very effective. Horses react to them and they don't shift ground (run around) when they are applied as I believe they are not hurt by them. The cushion whips do make a very loud noise and I think this sound sends a bit of fear into the horse and it responds while not being hurt in any way. The cushion whips have worked well for me,” Colless said.

So, as from August 1, that catchcry from diehard Australian racetrack and television punters to jockeys to “hit the b……” will change dramatically.

Its likely replacement of “go you b……” is, after all, far more conventionally acceptable.

Horses react to them and they don't shift ground when they are applied as I believe they are not hurt