The British Horseracing Authority decided to introduce new whip rules for jockeys last year, with the initial plan being that they would come into force on the sixth of February 2023. As part of the scheme, a decision was taken to allow for a ‘bedding in’ period, during which the rules would be applied but jockeys that failed to follow them wouldn’t be punished. The BHA has now decided to push back the date on which the new rules are going to be introduced, largely because the jockeys are struggling to adapt to how they should now be using the whip.
There were 645 rides that took place between then ninth and 15th of January, with 44 of them being referred to the new Whip Review Committee as they appeared to have broken the whip rules. Of those referred, all but one of them were declared to be ‘potential offences’, meaning that the jockeys might have been in trouble if the rules were already in place.
As a result of the near 7% of jockeys that have struggled to adapt to the new rules, the BHA has decided to push back the end of the bedding in period until the 13th of February.
Nearly 7% Of Riders Struggling With The New Rules
The British Horseracing Authority decided to have a bedding in period in order to give riders the chance to adapt to the new rules. It seems as if that decision was a good one, considering the fact that around 7% of the jockeys have struggled to remember that the rules have changed.
In the majority of cases, the referral that was made to the Whip Review Committee came about because the jockey was using the whip above shoulder height, which is one of the most crucial changes that is due to come into force next month.
The jockeys are being given a period of time to be shown how their ride would have been interpreted had it taken place with the rules in place. Some jockeys have struggled to adapt to them more than others, with 15 of the 29 advisory findings over using the whip above shoulder height being the responsibility of just five jockeys.
Jockeys were critical of some of the new rules, including the notion that there was a lack of clarity around what ‘above shoulder height’ actually meant. There is now a clearer definition in place.
Jockeys will be deemed to have broken the rule if there is a space between their hand and the top of the helmet, with many believing that this would involve using too much force and therefore being banned. In reaction to that change, though, has been the decision for a jockey to be punished after just one use of the whip above shoulder height, when previously the first use would have gone unpunished. Possible future penalties for breaches of the rules include fines totalling £850, which is why it’s so important for them to get it right.
Changes To The Rules
For some jockeys, the rules as they were previously were simply impractical and unworkable. Jockeys that had suffered an injury to their shoulder or collarbone, for example, would struggle to use the whip in the backhand position. Similarly, many of the jockeys that have been working in the horse racing industry for a decade or more felt that it was unfair for them to be punished for using the whip in a manner that muscle memory will have seen them using thousands of times across the course of their careers.
The decision to make changes is one that the British Horseracing Authority hasn’t taken lightly, with the feeling being that they don’t ‘reflect a dilution of the package of rule changes’ but instead give them a ‘method of achieving the same outcomes through a different approach’.
Joe Saumarez Smith, the Chair of the BHA, believes that the changes will ‘retain the objective of making whip use visibly more palatable to the public’, which in turn will help to ‘safeguard engagement with the sport among our fans present and future.’ Animal Aid, the animal rights group, understandably disagrees with that position.
Authorities Confident ‘Figures Will Come Down’
Whilst career jockeys are concerned about the possible fines that they will have to pay if they break the whip rule, to say nothing of the chance of being disqualified if they over use the whip, the authorities aren’t overly worried. Instead, there is a feeling within the British Horseracing Authority and associated bodies that the number of potential offences will come down over time. The entire point of having the bedding in period is to give riders the chance to realise what it is that they would be doing wrong if the rules were already in place.
That will obviously take time for them to get used to. Of the referrals that were made, ten of them were because the whip was used above the permitted level, three used the whip without giving the horse time to respond to the instruction issued alongside the whipping, with one apiece dished out for using the whip in the wrong place and for using the whip when the horse was no longer in contention to win. Those are things that jockeys will have to get used to, especially the idea of not being in contention to win when you consider how many horses have won races after being miles off the pace.
A spokesperson for the BHA said,
“The bedding-in period is in place to identify any further practical considerations regarding the new rules and guidance, or areas that are going to require greater adaptation from some jockeys. Clearly one of those areas is in relation to the use of the whip above shoulder height. Use of the whip above shoulder height was identified by the Whip Consultation Steering Group, and many of the jockeys spoken to through the consultation, as an area where it is accepted that significant improvement in riding style is needed.”