In my opinion it’s only a matter of time until whips are banned from Australian horse racing so it’s time jockeys, trainers and punters began to prepare themselves for the inevitable.
Racing without whips – is it inevitable? Photo: Steve Hart
I love a punt and I love to see a jockey doing their utmost to win.
I have no torch to carry for the extremists in the animal welfare world. At least until they adjourn and solve the ethical, intellectual and philosophical debate of mankind’s treatment of animals.
But I am a realist.
Community attitudes and perceptions change and attitudes toward the use of the whip in horse racing have been changing for quite some time.
So, Racing Australia bites the bullet and bans whip use in Australian horse racing – what changes?
You won’t bet, you say. Bollocks.
You’ll still bet because you, like me, and every other punter thinks we’re smarter than the next bloke.
It’s the very essence of why we bet in the first place – because we reckon our opinion is more on the money than most others.
We’ll stand at the pub or the track for a few weeks, lamenting that so and so would have won with a decent backhander but then, a little further on, we won’t even notice it’s (the whip) not there.
These days, more often than not with most of the top jockeys, I find myself willing them not to draw the whip.
Because I know if they do, they’ve reached desperation point and the horse and my cash is probably ‘gone’.
Look at Damien Oliver or Hugh Bowman arched over the horse’s neck, weight forward, pushing down and riding with tremendous hands and heels vigour over the final stages of a race.
Watch Kerrin McEvoy and Joao Moreira over the last 100 metres of this year’s Melbourne Cup.
It looks great.
There are also some cases where it can be entirely counter-productive.
I suspect that had Katie Mallyon continued to ride Grey Lion hands and heels, rather than try to draw the whip through to her left hand, she’d have won the Geelong Cup.
I’m not having a go at Mallyon who is an extremely competent young rider, it’s just a recent example which springs to mind.
Glen Boss wrote in his book The Boss – “I hate bashing horses because they just curl up underneath you anyway. When they are at their top doing their level best, don’t hit them….the notion that wielding the whip produces speed is just crazy.”
Boss also conceded that a ‘tap or two’ in the straight might encourage the horse to keep its mind on the job and noted that some horses would respond to strong whip use. “But not many,’ he wrote.
Mark Zahra – “A ban would concern me. I think we do need the whip for track work as well in races.
“It’s a tool to assist in educating and controlling the horse and the safety argument is real in my opinion.
“I really couldn’t imagine not using it. There’s plenty of willing young colts who’ll just have a lend of you if allowed half a chance.”
Mick Dittman – “It’s (the whip) not really a good look at the moment, and we need to help the jockeys improve their techniques with regard to getting the best out of horses using other ways,” said Dittman back in 2009.
Mick Kent – “The jockeys will say it’s a safety issue but that’s nonsense.
“And in terms of performance, it’s all about the jockeys relaying that sense of urgency to the horse.
“The whip may be an aid in conveying that urgency but horses are trained to respond to other triggers, like crossing the reins over.”
Julien Welsh – “I appreciate some may have a different view but for me, banning the whip would make not one iota of difference.
“I don’t use the whip at all in training or breaking. We carry them so that the horses get used to them but we don’t use them.
“In my opinion the vast majority of horses give their best without it.
“Look, a ban or no ban, it wouldn’t worry me either way. I accept that the whips today don’t inflict pain but we have to be mindful of public perception and whether we like it or not, public opinion has an impact on decision making.”
A SAFETY TOOL
Is the whip a necessary safety tool?
I am simply not qualified to speak on this as someone who’s not ridden in a race.
However, I can say that when I have privately asked jockeys about this matter they have invariably said ‘over rated.’
Publicly, they might say something altogether different but I suspect that’s because they either don’t want to be seen to be breaking ranks or they’re simply resisting change which is what people are inclined to do.
If safety is a legitimate issue, then let them carry a whip – in some sort of sheath – which can be drawn in dangerous situations but not as a tool to encourage.
The whip debate has raged since 1966 when Wally Hoysted walked onto the Flemington racetrack armed with a double barrelled shotgun and threatened to use it if the jockeys rode with whips in the upcoming race.
It’s meandered along ever since and the tough decision has been avoided despite various reports advocating a ban, including a 1991 Senate Select Committee report which concluded “the Committee would like to see the use of whips as a means of making a horse run faster eliminated from horse racing”.
Various changes to the whip rules since 2009 are simply unworkable and will continue to be so despite the changes which will allow stewards some discretion.
As of January 1, stewards are able to take into consideration the circumstances of a race, such as the distance and whether a jockey was using the whip to encourage the horse to improve its position.
Counting strikes, good heavens!
If a ban were imposed, we’d need to respond rationally.
Would the odd race result be affected?
Probably yes, but in line with Boss’s thinking, probably not many.
A few owners and trainers might complain that a certain horse can’t be competitive without the whip.
To which I’d respond, that’s just another vagary of racing.
Your horse is not competitive when he’s caught inside horses or when the tracks are too firm or too soft.
Perhaps methods of training and educating young horses will gradually change but even then I doubt it would have to be radical, especially in light of Julien Welsh’s comments.
Horses have to get a barrier certificate as it is.
The rogues won’t and don’t pass.
I suspect we have now reached the stage where the safety of the rider is the only genuinely, critical issue.
If jockeys cannot absolutely convince the authorities, and perhaps the public, that this is the case then a blanket whip ban is inevitable.
Australian racing without whips – now there’s something for all participants to consider as we dive into the new year.
* Steve Moran has covered racing in Australia and around the world for more than 30 years – working for Best Bets, TVN, radio RSN and a variety of newspapers.