Why, oh why, has the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board felt it necessary to tamper with the rules regarding the use of the whip by jockeys?
There are three main IHRB proposals to be implemented, sooner rather than later. The first relates to a jockey found guilty of hitting his horse nine times, or more, which will trigger a stewards’ enquiry, rather than an automatic sanction.
Under the current whip rules, a jockey has to allow his horse “time to respond’’, prior to administering a second and then subsequent strokes. Apparently, the IHRB proposal will attempt to define “time to respond” and suggest it will be at least three strides between strikes.
The third proposal will see riders sent on to an IHRB referrals hearing when they breach the rules four times or more over a 12-month period. The sanction for that will be a minimum six-day ban. That third proposal will surely render itself entirely irrelevant, because any jockey foolish enough to get done four times in the one-year would be better off finding a more suitable profession!
Andrew Coonan, secretary of the Irish Jockeys’ Association, was quickly out of blocks, accusing the regulator of using an increase in the breaches of the whip rules in 2018 as an excuse to change its policy.
Coonan believes the increase in breaches came about because of a change in stewarding policy, something denied by IHRB chief executive, Denis Egan. In 2012 breaches in the whip rules stood at 235 and between 2013 and 2017 varied between 131 and 169.
Last year the breaches jumped to 213, to which I would immediately be moved to exclaim, “so what?’’ Surely, you don’t decide to change of policy on such limited evidence! I mean, besides the IHRB, there is no one making any issue regarding the use of the whip by Irish jockeys.
There is no one seeking a change, there is hardly a murmur. Let’s concentrate on Irish National Hunt jockeys for a moment, the likes of Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell, Barry Geraghty, Mark Walsh, Paul Townend, Denis O’Regan, Sean Flanagan, Jack Kennedy, Rachael Blackmore, and David Mullins. What have they all in common? They are brilliant jockeys, only resorting to the whip stick as a last resort. Not one of them could be termed whip-happy. They are the flagbearers and set the standard for the rest to follow. Confining such responsible riders to such a restricted regime is ridiculous. It is hard enough to ride a horse in the heat of battle, without having to be constantly counting.
Imagine trying to work out whether you have reached eight strokes through the course of a race and then, on top of that, whether the horse has taken three strides before you can go to work again.
There seems little logic in making the whip an issue. Leaving it to the stewards to decide, on a day-to-day basis, to decide whether the stick has been used excessively, or if a horse has been struck out of rhythm, has been working well for a long time.
Chief Executive Egan was quoted as saying: “We’re aware of what’s going on elsewhere and we’re aware of welfare concerns within Ireland, but we’re not under any immediate pressure. We feel this is the right thing to do for racing.’’
What welfare concerns within Ireland, what have I missed? And as regards what’s going on elsewhere, if he has Britain in mind then the IRHB would do well not to align themselves to them.
The Brits seem to almost have a natural propensity for getting things wrong. On the racing front, look at how the British Horseracing Authority reacted to equine flu, yes bloody flu, a sniffle here and a sniffle there?
The BHA closed down their game for a number of days and managed to raise doubts as to whether Cheltenham would even go ahead. Eventually the BHA saw the light and sneezed their way back to sanity.
In contrast, Irish racing authorities were simply superb, acting calmly, swiftly and decisively and refused to move to the edge of the cliff, alongside the Brits. Look at the state of British racing when it comes to funding, with trainers and racecourses now engaged in an-ongoing battle over prizemoney.
It is based on the government’s decision to reduce what can be wagered on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs), in betting shops, to just £2.00, from £100. This may well lead to the closing of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of betting shops in Britain, the loss of many jobs and will cost racing millions. Imagine depending on FOBTs for the funding of racing.
It would be the same thing if Irish racing was funded by slot machines. Lesson to be learned, following the Brits down any road is not to be recommended. The Brits are always worried about what people outside of racing think about the use of the whip. Often it is people within the game that actually drive the discussion.
These days in Britain the much-respected John Francome is probably the leader of the clan believing the whip should be banned altogether. I met Francome a couple of times, at pre-Cheltenham nights, and found him to be a thorough gent and most engaging company. But his views on the whip drive me daft.
He usually gets off softly when discussing the issue, but on a recent Get-In programme on Sky Sports Racing had his arguments dismantled by Ted Walsh. Anyway, leave the Brits to continue to shoot themselves in the foot. They can stress about outside influences all they want, but there are no such worries in Ireland. Why we concern ourselves as to what people who have no interest in racing are thinking, regarding the whip, is a puzzle.
And, of course, there is a movement in Britain within racing to disqualify horses, when the rider is found guilty of excessive use of the stick. We even have the odd idiot in Ireland who has similar views.
If there was ever the possibility a horse night be thrown out after winning, because his pilot used the whip xcessively, then no self-respecting punter could ever have a bet again, at least not unless it was under the double-result rule. You could never again wager with on-course bookmakers, or the online exchanges. The whip is not a problem in Ireland, leave well enough alone.