The BHA’s much-maligned plan to update horse racing’s whip use rules has been kicked to the kerb following a backlash from jockeys.
The governing body wanted to ban jockeys from whipping horses with a forehand strike, while lowering the limit on the number of times that the whip can be used per race.
But following criticism from a number of leading jockeys, who believe the new rules could potentially make the sport even more dangerous, the BHA has softened their proposed changes.
Now, riders will be allowed to use the whip in the forehanded position – although the lower limitation on the number of times a horse can be whipped will remain in place.
And serious breaches of the whip use policy could still lead to disqualification from a race, plus a hefty 28-day suspension for the guilty party.
The BHA originally outlined their plans to update the sport’s whip rules back in the summer of 2022, and detailed a timeline that would have seen them rolled out via a ‘bedding in’ process this month before a full implementation from February onwards.
That chronology will remain in place, meaning that the new whip rules will first be introduced on Monday January 9, before the harsher penalties for non-compliance will get underway on Monday February 6.
Flat jockeys will enjoy a slightly longer stay of execution, with the four week bedding-in period commencing on Monday February 27.
Power to the People
When the BHA announced their original plans prior to the new National Hunt season, the community of jockeys was united in their opposition.
They claimed that preventing forehand whip strikes, which are more forceful than the backhand position, could lead to dangerous situations in races where a horse needs a reminder to run and jump safely.
Many riders have suffered serious shoulder and collarbone injuries during their careers, and they have reported that backhanded whip use can aggravate previous ailments.
The BHA has listened, and will forego the recommendation of their own consultation group that forehand whip strikes should be outlawed. However, many of the other ideas of the steering committee will be retained.
Joe Saumaraz Smith, the chairman of the BHA, believes the revised rules will still ensure jockeys are ‘judicious and better controlled’ in their use of the whip.
“It became clear through the views raised in the last few weeks, and which were presented to the BHA board, that the backhand-only rule could potentially have caused difficulties for some riders,” he said.
“The BHA board has therefore agreed these further changes, which resolve the issues with the backhand-only rule, but retain the objective of making whip use visibly more palatable to the public, therefore helping to safeguard engagement with the sport amongst our fans present and future.”
The former champion jockey Richard Hughes believes allowing whip use in the forehand position is a sensible move, and commented:
“I don’t know who made the silly idea in the first place – someone who doesn’t ride horses, probably. At least they’ve listened to the jockeys because they’re the ones who have to do it, so it’s a good thing.”
Under the new rules, jump jockeys will be allowed to use the whip seven times per race and Flat riders eight times – a reduction of one from the previous regulations.