Thoughts On The Implementation of the New Whip Rules

Thoughts On The Implementation of the New Whip Rules

The controversial new whip rules, or rather the penalties from the new whip rules have been in the news this week thanks to the ban handed out to Lorcan Williams following his winning ride aboard Makin’yourmindup on Saturday.

The Steering Group 

First it’s important to look at why the new whip rules are in place with the sports governing body the British Horseracing Authority confirming in May 2021 the make-up of a new steering group, the Whip Consultation Steering Group designed to look at the then rules and how to amend them.

The group had a membership of 15 with among others racehorse trainers Henry Daly and John Gosden, broadcaster Nick Lucky and jockeys PJ McDonald and Tom Scudamore who announced his retirement from the saddle recently.

Added to those were others involved in racing including a Jockey Club Racecourses employee, the managing director of a stud, a member of the House of Lords and an MP and veterinary surgeon.

Looking at the above it’s clear that a wide range of views were considered with possibly those of sportsbooks/bookmakers and the race going public the two most notable omissions. 

This all came on the back of a strategic plan by the Horse Welfare Board which carried the title “A Life well lived- a new strategic plan for the welfare of horses bred for racing 2020-2024”.

Chair of the group David Jones said at the time “It is essential that the consultation process is fair, open and transparent and the views of all parties are considered. In addition, any decisions must be made by those who have a deep understanding and knowledge of the subject matter and who are willing to both represent and consider a range of perspectives.”

The New Rules

Shortly after the new rules were announced there was some discussion surrounding exactly who had been consulted and to what extent.

Jockeys were unhappy at certain aspects of the rules, most notably the stipulation that the whip had to be used in the back hand position.

This particular part of the new rules has been removed, in part due to feedback from jockeys with regards to the usage of the whip by those who have suffered shoulder or collarbone injuries in the past.

Why this wasn’t fed back to either of the jockey reps who were members of the steering group or the trainers involved is another matter however. 

Following the second consultation period a few changes were made to the original rules, including according to a BHA press release dated 4th January 2023 “The removal of “discretion” being applied by the stewards around interpretation of whip offences. Therefore every use of the whip will count towards the thresholds for use, unless it has been used clearly and unequivocally for safety purposes. This will have the effect of further reducing whip use.” And “Increased penalties for offences, including doubled suspensions in major races”.

Whip Review Committee

The race day Stewards will refer jockeys who they deem to have breached the rules to the Whip Review Committee who at a later date will view the ride, assess whether a breach has taken place and then implement the required sanction.

The Committee is made up of BHA regulatory advisor Sam Angell plus a BHA steward and a stewards’ panel chair.

This is the stage that the Lorcan Williams ride reached this week with the racing public arguably first to hear about such a referral thanks to an interview that Paul Nicholls gave to Betfair’s Barry Orr on Monday. 

Following the various discussion periods the new penalties see a jockey receiving a four day ban for one hit over the limit (seven for jumps, six for flat), seven days for two days over the limit, ten days for three days over the limit with harsher punishments including disqualification of the horse involved for a breach of four or more hits.

The Williams Case 

Speaking to Betfair Lorcan Williams’ main supporter and the trainer of Makin’yourmind up Paul Nicholls stated “It’s one of those situations where he said if he hadn’t given him a couple of cracks then he wouldn’t have won, what was he to do, drop his hands and get beat? “

This quote raises a number of concerns for me, the first being that one of the country’s top trainers has interpreted the new rules as suggesting that a jockey who puts the whip down after using up his allowance of hits has dropped his hands.

One would hope that a jockey who had “run out” of hits would know that he’s allowed to push the horse and ride hands and heels so to speak and that the stewards will acknowledge there’s a difference between that and easing up once he or she has used the seventh hit.

While it’s possible to suggest that using the whip seven times prior to the closing stages of the race is ill-judged there’s every chance that the horse wouldn’t be in a position to challenge for the win had the whip not been used.

On Saturday Lorcan Williams made a judgement call that he was going to hit his mount a few extra times to ensure that he got the better of runner-up Collectors Item partnered by Kevin Brogan.

It’s worth noting that this wasn’t an extra smack to ensure the horse won by a length rather than three-quarters-of-a-length it was a win that was highly unlikely to have occurred had Williams stuck to the rules.

This was a decision that Williams no doubt made knowing the possible consequences and in the knowledge that the penalties are doubled for big races, such as Grade 2 contests as in Saturday’s case.

Other Cases

While Lorcan Williams case is the highest profile of those assessed by the Whip Review Committee in the first week it should be pointed out that he is far from being the only jockey to breach the regulations.

The most serious of all breaches took place when Charlotte Jones partnered Lunar Discovery to a second place finish at Ayr on Tuesday last week.

Lunar Discovery has subsequently been disqualified but all winning punters from the Ayr contest will get to keep their winnings while backers of the fourth home Touch Of A Dragon who will now be placed third have lost out on the place part of their bets. 

With the new rules now in place it’s very much worth noting the UK bookmakers who pay First Past The Post and offer the double result concession.

It’s not unfair to say that the new rules have had a huge impact on the weighing room in their first week with no fewer than 20 riding suspensions handed out to riders.

It’s not just apprentices and conditional riders losing out either with Aidan Coleman and Gavin Sheehan, both considered senior jockeys breaching the rules.

Overseas – France 

The UK isn’t the only country to implement new whip rules with France introducing new whip rules, which ostensibly amount to a reduction in the number of hits with hits down the neck/shoulder not used for safety counting towards the limit. 

A key issue with regards the Lorcan Williams ride is that the whip regulations are stricter in France and as such jockeys will have fewer hits under the new rules due to come into place on 1st May.

From that date jockeys will only be permitted to use the whip four times in a race but for the purposes of this example and a comparison with the Williams case it’s pertinent to look at what would have happened had Williams gone two or three hits over the limit.

As with the UK there are harsher penalties for Group/Graded races such as the one that took place at Haydock.

In a non-Group/Graded race Lorcan Williams would have been looking at a six day ban for a first offence (in a two month period) of going between three and five strikes over the limit. That penalty would have been harsher had Williams been a conditional jockey or an amateur.

As the race in question was a Graded event a ten day suspension would have applied for between seven and nine hits (three and five over the limit).

To put the severity of the Williams ban into perspective in relation to the punishment had the offence taken place in France “From 10 strikes onwards in all races suspension will be equal to the number of strikes.”

For comparison in order to obtain the 16 day ban that Williams has ended up with for the Haydock ride he’d have had to use quadruple the number of hits allowed under the incoming French rules.

I’ve long been in favour of harmonisation of whip rules, ideally the world over but at least for nations where horses regularly (think weekly) compete in one another’s jurisdictions.

The UK, Ireland and France would be one such example but as seen by comments from each of those jurisdictions social attitudes to the use of animals for sport vary by country and as such what is deemed acceptable in Ireland might not be acceptable in France or the UK and vice versa. 

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