Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Common Sense

Sadly, in the world today, there is such a complete and total lack of common sense from pretty much everyone that when some is actually invoked, I feel the need to recognize it.

On October 10, the British Horseracing Authority invoked a strict new set of whip-use rules for their jockeys that would be enforced immediately. The rules made waves within the jockey colony over there in rapid fashion. Essentially, jockeys were required to limit their use of the whip during the course of a race to seven in a Thoroughbred (or flat) race and eight in a Steeplechase (or jump) race, with only five strikes of the whip to be used in the final furlong of a flat race or after the final obstacle in a jump race.

Let me state here that I am all for reduced use of the whip by all riders everywhere. I must admit that some of the whip use that I see in some races causes me to shudder and wonder exactly what the rider is thinking when he repeatedly uses the whip in what appears to be a violent fashion. I also would like to see a horse that is ahead by a wide margin or fading out of a race in an obvious way not be whipped. I understand that sometimes a whip tap is required to keep a horse's mind on its business and that's fine. Honestly, though, does a horse have to whipped time and again by a rider with a six or seven length lead? Does a horse have to whipped that has no chance of finishing in a check-paying position? Of course not, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from whip use in either situation.

However, these rules that were invoked by the BHA were way off course. Do you think that it is easy for any rider to know exactly when that final furlong starts? I can say fairly surely that they aren't paying attention to the distance poles while trying to control an animal much larger than they are going at an incredible rate of speed. These rules caused one jockey in Britain, Richard Hughes, to turn in his jockey's license after having two separate incidents where he violated the more stringent rules. The most ridiculous implementation of the new standard came on British Champions Day, when Christophe Soumillon was docked his winning rider's share of the purse for using the whip six times in the final furlong of the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot aboard Cirrus des Aigles. That idiocy made the fact that Soumillon came over to North America and won the Grade 1 Canadian International aboard Sarah Lynx a justifiable result.

I am proud to say, though, that common sense has finally prevailed. It only took a threatened jockey strike and the rules were slightly altered to be a little more forgiving. Riders will not have to be giving away their purse money, while the suspensions for offenses were reduced from seven to three days. The changes to the rule changes were applied retroactively, so Soumillon got his Champion Stakes money and rightfully so. Also, the final furlong or final jump stipulation of five whip strikes was eliminated while the total number of whip strikes during a race was not changed. That is a more acceptable compromise between the parties.

As I said earlier, I am all for reducing the use of the whip by jockeys. I would also like to see more humane whips used in this country, like are used in international racing. I think there is great room for improvement in this area throughout the racing world. The steps being taken by the BHA are not wrong, they are right. However, a jockey must be allowed to be a jockey during a race, not a mathematician or a surveyor. It is all a matter of common sense, which nowadays might be better called uncommon sense.

Tune in again on Thursday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

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