New whip rules will be introduced to British racing in the new year and Irish riders will have to adapt to them in time for the Cheltenham Festival.
The new rules, which were signalled in July this year following an industry-wide consultation process, include restricting whip use to the backhand and are designed to foster "more considered use, consistency of stewarding and stiffer penalties for misuse".
There are 20 new rules and policies regarding whip use and they will be initially introduced for jump racing from January 9th in a four-week ‘bedding in’ period. During this time jockeys will not be subject to new sanctions. The new rules will be fully implemented for jump racing by February 6th.
Flat racing will start a four-week bedding-in period on February 27th, with full implementation from March 27th.
The different implementation date is to make allowance for the number of flat jockeys who will be riding abroad during the winter months while the jump bedding-in period is under way, while also allowing for the implementation process to be assessed prior to being rolled out on the flat before the start of the turf season.
The core recommendations include:
• Use of the whip for encouragement to be limited to the backhand position only
• Threshold for acceptable use of the whip to remain at seven in a flat race and eight in a jumps race
• Development of a whip review committee which is responsible for evaluation of all rides and any necessary sanction or action, to increase consistency and drive ongoing improvement in riding standards
• Increased penalties for offences, including doubled suspensions in major races
• Disqualification introduced for offences in which the whip has been used four times or more above the permitted level in all races
These recommendations are part of a suite of 20 initiatives which cover how the whip is used, changes to regulation, enforcement and other issues such as a commitment to greater scientific and technological research and communication around the whip. They are designed to be considered as a full package of measures.
The 20 changes are designed to develop a more considered and judicious use of the whip for encouragement, improving the style and perception of whip use, with a greater focus on education and improving standards of use. According to the BHA, "they will also support more consistent stewarding, and introduce a penalty framework which acts as an effective deterrent against misuse."
The revised whip rules and penalties were initially proposed by a Whip Consultation Steering Group consisting of experienced individuals from jockeys, trainers, to members of the racing industry, media, government and horse welfare sectors. Their proposals, initially published in the summer, were submitted to the BHA Board – and approved – following an extensive consultation process.
Since the publication of the Steering Group’s proposals the BHA has led an extensive period of technical discussions with those most affected by the new rules, including jockeys, broadcasters and the betting industry, to discuss any logistical and technical considerations arising from the proposals.
Throughout the technical discussion phase, a couple of adjustments and clarifications were made to the new rules. They are:
1. Flat riders are permitted to use jump version of the whip: In response to concerns raised by some jockeys regarding the use of the whip in the backhand-only and the risk of landing in the incorrect place, it has been clarified that riders in flat races will be permitted, should they wish, to use the jump version of the whip, which has a longer padded section.
2. Disqualification decisions: To address concerns raised by betting operators (in particular the World Pool) and some international jurisdictions regarding the impact of potential disqualification of runners on raceday for betting purposes, any potential decisions regarding disqualification of runners for an egregious offence will now be made by the whip review committee, away from the raceday, and will therefore not affect the outcome of a race for betting purposes.
It is anticipated that the review committee will meet once a week to consider sanctions from all races, most likely on a Tuesday.
This approach mirrors the policy which has been in place in the USA since July this year, whereby a disqualification provision has been introduced for serious whip offences. However in implementing this the result past the post is not affected for betting purposes.
In addition, the detailed guidance which underpins the whip rules has been developed with the feedback from the period of technical discussions in mind. This includes the definitions applied to some of the technical aspects of the rules, and the processes that will be used by the new whip review committee.
A period of communication and education will now take place prior to the full implementation of the new rules, which includes a mandatory online module to inform all jockeys of their obligations under the new framework. This must be completed by all riders (both domestic and international) prior to their first ride in Britain after February 6th over Jumps, or March 27th on the flat, and will be complemented by enhanced access to jockey coaches for those who need further support in adjusting to the transition.
Brant Dunshea, Chief Regulatory Officer for the BHA, said: “We are extremely grateful for the engagement and feedback we have received through the period of technical discussions. The discussions were full and frank, hence the time they have taken to conclude.
“The discussions quickly established that there was overall support for the vast majority of the recommendations. However, as expected there were some areas of concern raised. We have listened to the feedback we received and made adjustments to the initial proposals accordingly.
“We recognise that some of the new rules are going to take some time to get used to for some jockeys, which is why we have factored in time for communication and education as well as a bedding-in period before the rules and penalties are implemented in full.”
David Jones, BHA Board member and Chair of the Whip Consultation Steering Group, said: “While the initial proposals were made following an extensive consultation process, it was important that further, detailed discussions take place with those most affected by the proposals.
“I am pleased, therefore, that sensible adjustments have been made where necessary, while the overall package of measures has been approved and will now go forward to implementation.
“This whole process, from start to finish, has always been about listening to the views of all our audiences and making decisions which best preserve the perception of our sport and the welfare of our horses, while also recognising the role that the padded whip plays in safe and fair race riding.”
In an interview published in The Irish Field last weekend, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board chief executive Darragh O'Loughlin said there were no plans to change Irish racing's whip rules at the moment. "Where the BHA has gone with it is not in line with where other racing jurisdictions are going with the whip," he said.