A brand new horse racing format is looking to revolutionise the sport in more ways than one.
The Racing League, which is the brainchild of former Swindon Town chairman Jeremy Wray, is a new flat racing competition with a guaranteed prize pool of nearly £2 million that promises to change the way that jockeys use their whip.
Rather than for ‘encouragement’ as per the current BHA guideline, the whip can only be used in The Racing League for ‘safety and correction purposes’.
The announcement has been greeted with support from many in racing, and comes just weeks after the BHA themselves revealed that they will be conducting their own comprehensive investigation into whip use.
If The Racing League proves to be successful, it is possible that the current rules on whip use will be mandated accordingly.
Right now, jockeys are allowed to use the whip seven times in flat races and eight times over jumps in rule changes that were introduced back in 2011.
That has led to a significant reduction in the use of the whip, while breaches – typically where jockeys are too aggressive with their horses – have fallen to around 400 per year, down from more than 1,000 prior to the rule change.
Jockeys also now use an air-cushioned whip, which research has found does not hurt the horse in any way.
The major issue is in the public’s perception of whip use in horse racing – and whether it is cruel or not, so perhaps The Racing League will go some way towards righting that wrong.
The move has been supported by former champion jockey AP McCoy, who believes that the current rules need to be strengthened so that winners of races where a jockey has beached whip rules should be disqualified.
“I think they need to get on the front foot on it,” the Irishman said. “If you break the rules, the horse should be thrown out because it will only happen a few times after that.”
What is The Racing League?
With the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National on the horizon, and with global issues such as coronavirus dominating column inches, the announcement of The Racing League has rather flown under the radar.
This will be a team-based event held over six flat meetings in the summer, with the idea to drive people back into evening racing by putting on a exciting and entertaining spectacle.
Doncaster, Lingfield, Newcastle and Windsor will play host to the events, which will be held on Thursdays in July and August.
There will be 12 teams competing against one another, which each featuring a stable of three jockeys, between two and four trainers and a ‘squad’ of 30 horses, who will compete in races held over distances of between 5f and 12f.
Points are awarded based on performance, with winners earning 25 points, runners-up 18 points and so on in a descending scale.
A total prize pot of £1.8 million is available to be won, with bonuses available per meeting and for the overall champions.
It will be the actual embodiment of ‘The Series’, a similar idea floated last summer which eventually came to nothing.
A spokesman for the competition said that the idea behind The Racing League was to increase levels of ‘fan engagement and accessibility’, although not everybody is sold on the idea – Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, a considerable presence in British racing via his Qipco brand, has labelled the event a ‘ridiculous idea’.