New whip rule runs risk of hurting the racing industry
THE new whip rule, which will further restrict the use of the whip by jockeys, is due to be introduced on December 1 - and riders are not happy.
Many see it as just another weak-kneed response from racing authorities continuing to pander to the perceptions of animal activists to the detriment of racing.
Let's get one thing clear. Whichever side of the fence you sit on in this argument, nobody wants to see a horse mistreated, least of all the jockeys, most of whom were attracted to the game in the first place because of their love of the thoroughbred and the true, competitive spirit that is an intrinsic part of racing.
There are, and always have been, penalties in place for excessive use of the whip, and therein probably lies a better solution to the whip issue than the current rule amendment.
Heavier penalties for those in breach of the rule, with the severity increasing dramatically according to the level of transgression, would have an effect on the way riders go about their business. And yes, we have to be talking about suspensions and not fines.
By all means restrict the use of the whip, but that can be legislated only to a point where the race result itself is not compromised, if the racing product is to maintain any satisfactory level of integrity.
The question is when does the rule go too far in that regard and has it done so with this latest amendment?
Queensland jockey of the year Damian Browne has a firm response to that question. Writing in his personal blog on horseracingonly.com.au, Browne stated: "There will be horses whose winning chances will be compromised under the new rule and you would think that in itself would be a huge consideration against implementing a rule of this nature.
"If you don't give some horses a few reminders to keep their mind on the job they won't get there. There are horses that need a bit of help and there are others where you don't have to use the whip at all. As a professional jockey it is our job to know that and to only use the whip accordingly."
It must be remembered that a jockey is charged with giving his or her mount the best possible chance of gaining its best possible finishing position. In fact there are serious consequences if they don't, not to mention the negative fallout for the industry.
Not only are they charged to do so but, importantly, jockeys must be seen to do so by racing's customer, the punter.
Keeping that perception of a fair race intact will have a greater impact on the sustainable future of racing than any perception on whip use, so if the whip rule compromises that outcome in any way it is doing racing no service at all.
The bottom line is racing authorities are meant to be serving racing's best interests and not that of any outside lobby group.
Can they truly say they are doing so with regard to this important issue?
*Graham Potter is the managing editor of http://www.horseracingonly.com.au