Racing pundit John McCririck believes the sport has missed an ideal opportunity to boost its image in the UK by failing to ban hitting horses with the whip.
The Channel 4 Racing and At The Races expert feels the British Horseracing Authority has been “gutless” in not abolishing the stick, but believes it is just a matter of time before hitting horses will be a thing of the past.
“It’s a typical BHA review and compromise. We’ve been talking about the whip for 30 years and the fact is the whip is on the way out,” he said. “There’s no other living creature on the planet you are legally allowed to hit.”
McCririck’s views come after the result of a 10-month review by the BHA was announced.
Starting on October 10, the whip can only be used a maximum of seven times in a Flat race, and up to eight times in a jumps race.
Of those, the horse can be struck no more than five times in the last furlong or after the last obstacle.
Increased entry-point penalties are being implemented, with a five-day minimum suspension for not adhering to the frequency limits. The previous minimum penalty was a caution.
A jockey who incurs a whip ban of three days or more will forfeit his riding fee and prize money percentage.
Penalties will increase for those who breach the rules on more than one occasion, and the second offence will be double that of a first offence.
However, McCririck is unimpressed with the rule changes.
“It’s all a question of image and the public’s perception, women especially and newcomers to racing. They can’t abide that we are hitting these horses to try to make them go faster,” he went on.
“More races are lost through the whip than because of it as horses swerve away from it. I used to be in favour of the whip, but it’s now become macho for jockeys. People think if they don’t hit them they aren’t trying.
“More people in racing are now supporting abolition. We need a whip for steering purposes, but not to hit and not to punish.
“The BHA has spent millions of pounds on Racing For Change and all the new gimmicks and ideas they have brought in. Some are fine, but this is one reform we could make ourselves to enhance the image of racing.
“One day there is going to be a court case and that will be the end of the whip.
“The BHA has been gutless as usual. They have not stood up to their responsibilities. Whipping horses is morally wrong and we should all be taking a stand against it.
“The BHA could have enhanced their reputation and it wouldn’t have cost them a penny. Hitting animals in the name of sport is unacceptable.”
The industry as a whole welcomes the new rules with the Professional Jockeys Association describing them as “concise and easy to understand”.
“We have worked closely with the BHA during this important review for racing and have been consulted throughout,” said PJA chief executive Kevin Darley.
“Jockeys are pleased the Authority has recognised the whip is an important tool of the trade and that these changes will ultimately help protect the integrity of the sport.
“While there are always differences of opinion, the PJA is advising its members to endorse the changes and react positively to them.”
The BHA announced the changes on Tuesday morning after leading the review, compiled with input from recognised animal welfare bodies, including the RSPCA.
Use of the whip was the subject of much scrutiny when Jason Maguire was found to have struck Ballabriggs 17 times when winning the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree in April. Maguire was suspended for five days.
Frankie Dettori was also banned for nine days after he hit Rewilding 24 times inside the final two furlongs of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Dettori, arguably the most famous face in Flat racing, said: “I am not proud of having fallen foul of the whip rules in the past but I have never harmed a horse.
“These new rules are easy to understand which will help all jockeys ride within them. I accept these new rules are in the best interest of our great sport.”