Whipping up a storm
Richard Hughes has handed in his jockey licence over the new whip rules introduced this week.
I have some sympathy for him. In fact quite a lot. Jockeys are paid to do a job: to get their horse into the best possible finishing position in a race – preferably in the money if not the winner’s enclosure.
Hughes is not against hitting horses less during a race. This is where we slightly part company.
I am against hitting horses in a race, but if you are allowed to carry a whip and everyone else is using them to achieve the stated aim of achieving the best finishing position whaddya gonna do?
Asking someone to count the times they use the whip, and confine yourself to only 5 uses in the last furlong (the one where you ride the finish) is asking people to distract themselves from the task in hand. Pass the final furlong pole, ask or keep your horse up to its effort, bring it wide or find a gap, keep it straight and count, count, count, count, count. Richard Hughes used his whip 6 times – you can use it for a total of 7 in a race, but no more than 5 of those must be in the final furlong – so he’s in breach of the new rules.
He’s one of our most experienced jockeys and I am sure he can count, but expecting people to work one way for years and then just switch to another is asking a lot. Hughsie said on the radio this morning jockeys had been trying to practice it a bit in the run-up to the new rule; clearly it’s not worked.
When I was first into racing I was in a racing club where the horses were raced without shoes and the jockey was not allowed to use the whip. The jockey had to carry one in accordance with the Rules of Racing, but the trainer and owners stipulated it was not to be used. Incredibly, for those people who couldn’t countenance racing without hitting horses, sometimes these horses won races. And I can tell you as a spectacle and as someone who respects and appreciates animals it’s far more attractive and enjoyable to pick up some winnings without your jockey picking up a whip ban.
Just get rid of the damn thing and have done. Good riders will manage without them perfectly well. Lazy horses might be more lazy, but so what? Horses might run straight when they aren’t running away from the whip, so we might see less inteference in finishes and the wider public will have to lose the perception that animals are beaten in the pursuit of entertainment and money.
Asking professional riders to count up to 5 in the final furlong is a multitask too far it seems.