Talking Horses: BHA will consider backtrack on whip rule changes

Talking Horses: BHA will consider backtrack on whip rule changes

The British Horseracing Authority indicated on Friday evening that it will look at amending its new rules on the use of the whip, which are due to come into force in February next year, following “public and private representations” from riders in recent days which focused in particular on a proposed ban on use of the whip in the forehand position.

The BHA published the amended rules in mid-July, following an extensive review and consultation process which included two senior jockeys, Tom Scudamore and PJ McDonald.

In addition to the ban on forehand use, with even a single stroke in what is many jockeys’ preferred position incurring a suspension of at least seven days, the regulator also proposed to double penalties for whip misuse in high-profile races. It would also introduce a new penalty of disqualification – which penalises the horse’s owner and trainer as well – where a rider is four or more strokes over the limits of seven strokes on the Flat and eight over jumps.

Several senior riders over jumps, including Harry Skelton, Nico de Boinville and Harry Cobden, have expressed misgivings about the new rgulations over the last 10 days, after the BHA confirmed its timetable for their introduction in late November. The new regime is due to come into force on 6 February at the end of a four-week “bedding in” period to allow jockeys to adapt to using the whip only in the backhand position.

Cobden described the ban on forehand use as “bloody ridiculous”, while several colleagues suggested that introducing the rules barely a month before the Cheltenham Festival in March could lead to a spate of suspensions in the run-up to the sport’s showpiece meeting. Many jockeys based in Ireland, as well as those competing in events for amateurs, would also have been riding at the Festival with little or no prior experience of the new regime.

The BHA’s intervention suggests that it has listened to the riders’ concerns and will seek to amend the rules, while also maintaining its stance that it has tightened the overall regime to a point where it can remain for the foreseeable future.

The most straightforward option appears to be to drop the insistence on use only in the backhand position while also reducing the number of strokes allowed. A limit of five strokes on the Flat – the level now in place in France and Germany – with up to six allowed over jumps could be a compromise acceptable to riders and the regulator.

“The BHA has always understood the challenges involved in any review of the use of the whip in horse racing,” a spokesperson for the Authority said on Friday. “From the moment we launched a consultation in July 2021 we constantly engaged with all interested parties, especially jockeys and their representatives, to ensure we listened to the views of those most affected. It was because of that readiness to engage that we agreed to extend the initial timescales for implementation of new rules beyond autumn 2022, allowing as many people as possible to influence and shape the technical discussion phase.

“In the past few days, however, further representations have been made to the BHA, including some themes which were not raised as part of the initial consultation or technical discussions.

“In light of this latest information, the BHA and the chair of the Whip Consultation Steering Group have agreed to continue dialogue to explore options that address the concerns being raised, while still delivering our core objective of a more considered and judicious use of the whip for encouragement, and improved perception of whip use.

“It is right that those discussions are allowed to take place away from the glare of publicity, but we will look to provide an update as soon as possible in light of the existing timelines for the ‘soft launch’ of revised rules on 9 January 2023.”

With the BHA still keen to stick to its timetable for introducing the new rules, an intense period of behind-the-scenes negotiation will now ensue before the extent of any changes finally becomes apparent.

Blank day of action as cards fall to the freeze
Racing at Lingfield on Saturday afternoon has been abandoned following a second inspection.

With high-profile jumps meetings at Ascot and Haydock already off, along with further National Hunt cards at Newcastle and Fairyhouse, Lingfield’s all-weather fixture was set to be the main attraction. Temperatures dipped as low as minus 8C at the Surrey circuit this week, and while the clerk of the course George Hill declared the track raceable on Friday, he did announce a precautionary 7.30am inspection.

That revealed a frozen area on the edge of the racing line and with that in mind a further check took place at 9.30am. But despite the best attempts of Hill and his team temperatures have not risen quickly enough and were still minus 5C when the decision was taken to abandon.

It will be a blank day of racing after Chelmsford was also abandoned. The course reported temperatures not rising significantly and that frozen lumps in the track will not thaw in time after minus 9C and freezing fog overnight. PA Media