Jockeys at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival will face increased scrutiny over how they use their whips. If they are deemed to have been using the whip excessively, then stricter actions will be introduced at the Grand National race meeting.
The four-day racing festival later this month will see all riders being given a reminder of how much they are allowed to use the whip. This will be accompanied by daily briefings ahead of all Cheltenham races that will aim to enforce the regulations introduced in December that governed how the whip could be used.
Ireland’s new measures on the use of the whip
This follows on from recent announcements from Ireland’s horse racing authorities that limited how many times a jockey can use a whip during the course of a race. The new Irish regulations emerged after the amount of offensive uses of a whip increased by 26% during the course of 2018’s race meetings in Ireland. This brought the number of offences up to levels not seen since back in 2013 when the new rules were introduced.
With no less than 213 individual whip uses, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board clearly felt that something needed to be done in order to ensure the racehorses’ welfare. As a result all races in Ireland will see the jockeys being allowed a total of seven uses of the whip in flat racing, and this limit has been increased to eight in jump races. This will harmonise Irish regulations with those in Britain and it should help to standarise the use of the whip in future race meetings.
Increased UK political pressure
The racing world has come under a huge amount of pressure to restrain the use of the whip. This has led to commendable actions such as the use of an air-cushioned whip that limits the impact on the racehorses. Despite this, there are still many voices insisting that the sight of the whip will cause many potential racing fans to avoid the sport completely.
With revenues being potentially affected and growing pressure from the British government, there have been increased rumours that we may eventually see the whip outlawed from horse racing in less than three years. As a result, the upcoming Cheltenham Festival that runs for four days from 12 to 15 March will be a pivotal event in showcasing how the whip could be used in a safe and yet effective manner.
The British Horseracing Authority has made it perfectly clear that there will be a close review after the Cheltenham Festival of how the jockeys have used the whip. If there are still concerns that the whip is being used excessively, then ‘temporary measures’ could be given the go-ahead to be introduced in race meetings ahead of this year’s Grand National.
The Grand National will take place from 4 to 6 April, and it could see special new penalties put in place if the jockeys have been seen to have used the whip too many times. Whilst the British government has expressed satisfaction with the current whip regulations, it seems as though the British Horseracing Authority is going ahead with a new welfare strategy to ensure that the industry is brought in line.
UK racing whip guidelines
The current regulations over the use of the whip were approved back in 2011. Since then we have seen the number of infringements drop from 1085 in 2010, to 541 last year. This is a dramatic fall of 48%, but it seems that this figure still isn’t enough for the sport’s regulatory bodies.
Whilst figures from the Professional Jockeys’ Association have stated that banning the whip won’t make any difference to the runners’ welfare, the prevailing mood is that this is one of the more ugly aspects of the sport that needs to be thoroughly addressed.
All across the racing world, the whip has remained a troublesome feature. Just recently the French racing authorities made the move to reduce the number of strikes per race from eight to six, and popular race meetings like the Cheltenham Festival have seen increased penalties for jockeys who have been seen to have overstepped the code.
This was seen when the jockey Richard Johnson was given a £6,550 fine as a result of his Gold Cup race on Native River. Whilst he managed to win the iconic event, by using the whip too many times in the battle between Native River and Might Bite, Johnson’s fine was a black mark on what should have been a day of celebration.
Other welfare issues to be addressed
Whilst the focus of horse racing welfare is currently on the use of the whip, it seems that there are plenty more issues that have fallen under the scrutiny of the British Horseracing Authority. This is why there have been more calls for more thorough veterinary checks before each race so as to ensure each runner’s health and avoid racehorse fatalities.
In addition to this, there will be increased measures made to monitor race conditions to ensure the runners’ and jockeys’ safety. Plus with a new project that plans to monitor faller rates, it’s hoped that we can avoid the trauma that was suffered when last year’s Cheltenham Festival witnessed many racehorses dying.
Although horse racing events like the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National are still key fixtures on the British sporting calendar, there is real concern that animal welfare is not being sufficiently addressed. With ongoing protests from animal rights groups and increased political pressure, racing’s governing bodies are stuck in a dilemma about what can be done to resolve the situation.
Even if the use of the whip is banned in the next few years, many people still think that the sport will be stuck with a negative reputation. Ultimately, it comes down to how successfully events like the Cheltenham Festival are managed so that UK racing can proceed in a safe and satisfactory manner.