The British Horseracing Authority changes whip rules

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent

Jockeys could lose their riding fees and percentage of the prize pot if they break tough new whip rules announced by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

From 10 October, the amount of times a jockey's whip can be used during a race will be nearly halved to seven times in Flat races and eight in races over jumps.

A maximum of five strokes can be administered in the last furlong or from the final obstacle.

If a rider is handed a suspension of three days or more by the stewards for a whip violation, a financial penalty will be automatically triggered.

Additionally it will become an offence for any owner or trainer to reimburse their rider from their own winnings.

Had the rule been in place for this year's Grand National at Aintree, it would have cost winning jockey Jason Maguire - who was suspended for five days for using his whip with "excessive frequency" on Ballabriggs - about £40,000.

It's thought-provoking that there were more complaints about Maguire's whip during the finish than about the deaths of two horses earlier in the race.

Some critics demanded winning horses whose jockeys had broken the rules, such as Ballabriggs, should be disqualified from first place.

But a BHA review of whip rules concluded it would be unfair to penalise racehorse owners, trainers, stable staff and punters. As such, its recommendation to hit only the jockey is to be adopted.

The inquiry into one of sport's, let alone racing's, most emotive areas included input from the RSPCAexternal-link as well as from racing organisations.

It agrees with the widely held view that current punishments for offences regarding the whip can't be terribly effective because they are being broken far too often.

Professor Tim Morris of the BHAexternal-link told the BBC: "Animal rights groups are claiming the whip is cruel but that's a different matter because they are against racing.

"We believe excessive use [of the whip] is not only wrong but counter-productive.

"Animal welfare groups have not told us in defined circumstances that the whip is cruel.

"If you are on a half-tonne of horse going at nearly 40mph over a jump and there are 20 other horses around you, you need a tool to steer, correct its stride, and balance a horse.

"It's a very risky sport and we've got to look after jockeys' safety."

The minimum punishment for overusing a whip will be increased from a simple stewards caution to a five-day ban, with increasingly harsh measures for repeat offenders.

However, the review has resisted calls for the whip to be banned from racing outright, saying it is "appropriate and necessary" for safety if used within strict guidelines.

Leading jockeys and trainers have welcomed the changes.

Fourteen-time classic winner Frankie Dettori said: "I accept these new rules are in the best interest of our great sport."

Tony McCoy, champion jumps jockey for the last 16 years and reigning BBC Sports Personality of the Year, said: "The PJA [Professional Jockeys Association] has worked closely with the Authority on the BHA's Review and I hope my colleagues embrace the proposed changes as being in the best interest of the sport."

Paul Nicholls, champion jumps trainer for the last six years, said: "While I've been a critic of the rules in the past, nobody likes seeing misuse of the whip and I agree the time had come when something had to be done.

"I am pleased the BHA has made sensible and reasonable changes, and I am supportive of them."

The RSPCA has reacted to the new rules with a statement that said: "At first sight it would appear the BHA has made some positive changes to which we give a cautious welcome. We will be monitoring their implementation to see if they have made a real difference to horse welfare.

"Five of the six key recommendations the RSPCA made to the BHA have been introduced, including a substantial reduction in the number of times jockeys can use the whip during a race.

"However, we are disappointed that the BHA has not changed the rules to prevent the use of the whip in the forehand."