Announced to much fanfare back in November, the BHA’s plans to change the rules on whip usage in both forms of horse racing could be scuppered before they are even introduced.
Many within the sport have attacked the organisation’s attempts to update their laws, with champion trainer Aidan O’Brien warning of the ‘catastrophic’ consequences of rule changes that he believes could cause ‘irreparable damage’ to the sport.
And now the governing body has admitted it is to ‘explore options’ into how they could implement change without drawing further ire from racing’s most prominent figures.
What are the New Whip Rules In UK Racing?
Originally, the BHA had outlined three major changes to the whip rules in line with the recommendations of their steering committee.
- Whip use in backhand position only – no more forehand whipping
- Disqualification from races in which the whip is used four times over the limit
- Sanctions for repeat offenders increased, including a doubling of suspensions
The BHA decided to keep the old limits on whip use (seven times in Flat races, eight in jumps outings), and revealed plans for a whip review committee to decide on action in races where a jockey appears to have breached the new rules.
Although welcomed by many, it would also be fair to say that the whip rule changes were not exactly universally popular….
O’Brien, one of the giants of Flat racing, has been one of the most vociferous opponents of the BHA’s proposals.
“For me, the new rules could be the beginning of the end for English racing,” he said.
“Punters will stop betting if jockeys can’t ride sensibly. [And] the next step will be to take the whips away. Any country in the world where whips have been taken away has seen racing take a big downturn. It’s really shocking.”
The Irishman was particularly against plans to outlaw forehand striking, which enables jockeys to better manage their horses than a lighter backhanded whip.
“You cannot get the best out of a horse with just the backhand,” O’Brien claimed. “The new whip doesn’t do much more than tickle a horse.”
Top jockeys like Harry Cobden, Harry Skelton and Nico de Boinville have echoed O’Brien’s sentiments, with the former labelling the plans as ‘bloody ridiculous’.
What the BHA Do Next
With the new rules set to be launched in February, the BHA won’t have long to iron out the reservations of those involved in racing.
They have already indicated a willingness to modify their new laws, with the possibility that forehand strikes may not be banned after all.
It’s thought that the BHA won’t soften their stance on introducing tougher penalties for whip misuse, however they may increase the ‘bedding in’ period that would enable domestic and Irish jockeys to become accustomed to the new regulations.
They are likely to sit down with jockeys and trainers early in the new year to discuss the planned changes, although a complete about-face on the whip rule modifications is unlikely.