JC / Railbird

Whip Use

Three Strikes and a Pause

California’s new whip rules are in effect after much prep:

The CHRB said the effort has involved a review of racing videos and informing jockeys when their actions would have incurred a penalty under the impending rule. “Stewards report that jockeys are now in substantial compliance,” the CHRB said.

7/3/15 Update: More on the implementation of the new whip rules:

“It’s honestly going to help riders in general,” Van Dyke said. “If you go rapid-fire, like hit a horse four times quick, your horse tends to drift more. The whip rule will make the rider focus more on staying straight. I think it’s great.”

7/4/15 Update: Two riders fined for violations.

Taral’s Tattoo

Joe Palmer, writing in Names on Pedigrees, on the great racehorse and prepotent sire Domino (1891-1897) and his jockey:

Domino has his first outing at the Gravesend track at Brooklyn, in a five-furlong 2-year-old sweepstakes. Fred Taral, who rode the colt in all but one of his 25 races, and who was one of the most powerful “whip riders” of all time, was in the saddle. Domino broke in front, led all the way to win by six lengths from Fonso and Patrician …

Taral, whose contract had been bought for $10,000, hammered a terrific tattoo on Domino on several occasions, and the horse, sensibly enough, came to hate him, tried to savage him whenever possible. Toward the end of the horse’s racing career, according to Foxhall Keene, a blanket had to be thrown over the colt’s head before Taral could mount.

(This passage jumped out as I was looking something up in Pedigrees today, a lingering after-effect of this year’s Kentucky Derby whip discussion.)

House Rule

Relevant Belmont Stakes-eve information on whip use via the New York Times:

In New York, the state issues a fine or penalty for excessive use of the whip. But since 2010, racing stewards have also enforced a house rule of no more than five strikes in succession, with a pause of two or three strides to see if the horse responds.

When a rider violates the rule, one of the tan wall phones in the jockeys’ locker room will ring, Dr. Hill said, and the call will go out: “Movies for Jockey A tomorrow” — meaning a violation was caught on film, and the jockey will be given a $500 fine that will go to a track-related charity.

Retired jockey and NYRA analyst Richard Migliore says he’d like to see a whip rule that goes beyond the soon-to-be implemented California guidelines: “one strike of the whip, then wait a few strides to see if the horse responds.”

How Much Is too Much?

Pia Catton rounds up the current discussion regarding riding crop use in a piece for the Wall Street Journal that includes this tidbit from jockey Gary Stevens on how his use of the whip changed while riding abroad:

Scaling back takes attention, but it is doable, said Stevens, who raced in Europe during previous rules tweaks and found a more conservative style. “It didn’t change the outcome of the race,” he said. “I started getting better results.”

Her well-balanced story gets picked up by The Awl with the headline “What is the Appropriate Level of Violence Against Animals?” and tagged “Beatings – Horses.” Tweets one observer in response, “in horse racing, the answer is anything goes.” Ouch! That’s not the nuanced view of most in racing. Yet, while we can talk about padded crops making more noise than causing pain, when the limits for use — in the wake of a display such as the 30-odd strikes rider Victor Espinoza gave American Pharoah in winning the Kentucky Derby — seems to be welts or it’s no big deal, anything goes will be a common perception among the broader public, which is a problem, because social norms re: animal welfare and use for sport aren’t shifting in the game’s favor.

The Thoroughbred Daily News addressed the issue last week with essays from eight contributors — trainers and jockeys, fans and turf writers — covering just about every angle on the debate (the headline is polarizing; the respondents are thoughtful). Pull the Pocket distilled the essential points, including this one, relevant to Stevens’ quote:

We know best — I’ve heard “let the participants decide what to do, the jocks know best.” I think that opinion matters, but it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. If football players made up the rules, clotheslines and leading with a helmet would be legal and more and more players would be eating through a straw. Participants hate change because it means they have to change the way they have always done things. The culture, as Chris Mac notes in his piece, is very strong and these folks need to be listened to for their experience, but they need to be led, not appeased.

California’s revised whip rules, restricting a jockey to three strikes of the crop before pausing for response, go into effect on July 1. Officially, anything won’t go. What follows will be a test of setting and enforcing limits, for stewards as much as for jockeys. There’s potential for California to be a model.

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