Why changes to racing’s new whip rules appear inevitable

Jockey uses a whip at Brighton races
A possible, controversial change to the rules could focus on the final furlong.

Adjustments to new whip regulations appear inevitable as the British Horseracing Authority seeks to find a solution to end the dispute with jockeys.

But any major watering down of the rules risks angering the groups who helped compile them in the first place.

The most likely modification will be the scrapping of the ''final furlong'' element which restricts jockeys to using the whip just five times in the closing stages of the race.

Instead, riders would simply be allowed to strike the horse seven times in total in a flat race or eight over the jumps. That simplification is likely to be acceptable to all parties, but the financial penalty for rule breakers is potentially a far more controversial issue.

Christophe Soumillon's victory at Ascot on Saturday provided the perfect example of the new regulations in action.

In previous years if he had been found guilty of breaking the whip rules to win a race, he would have been suspended for a number of days, affecting his earning capacity accordingly, but would keep his share of the prize money. Under the new rules he was stripped of £50,000, a huge sum in racing.

One option is for the BHA to now reverse that policy, or to compromise. Potentially, a jockey who breaks the rules could lose any prize money but keep the race fee, a smaller sum paid to jockeys for every horse they ride.

What is certain is that welfare groups would be deeply disappointed if the financial element was removed or even diluted.

The BHA made it clear in their initial review that the ''rules on whip use are not an effective enough control and deterrent in their current form.'' If the financial penalty is lessened, then many fear there would again simply be no effective deterrent.

There is also concern in some quarters that the Soumillon case, and the bitter objections voiced by many jockeys, have obscured the true picture.

Analysis by World Horse Welfare, for example, suggests that since the new whip rules were introduced on 10 October less than 1% of rides have actually been in breach of the guidelines.

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BHA review controversial whip rules

Whilst the BHA is currently busy trying to decide how it can change detail in the whip review to appease jockeys, it is also desperately trying to hold on to the principle of the review.

Part of their research involved commissioning an extensive public opinion survey, and the BHA concluded: ''A large proportion of the population - particularly women and those with no interest in racing - instinctively disagree with the use of the whip and think current penalties are too lenient.''

The key issue remains whether racing wants to attract that opinion group. Jockeys insist the air-cushioned whips they use are not harmful to horses and it is widely accepted that if kept within limits, whipping is not a direct risk. But there is clearly still a matter of public perception to be addressed.

The BHA is determined to meet the Friday deadline to reach a resolution that will definitely end the row.

But jockeys are by no means the only interested parties, and if a review which took almost a year to complete was to be undone in a matter of days the BHA knows it would face fierce criticism from those who see welfare reform as an essential part of racing's future.

Meanwhile, two leading jockeys are seeking to distance themselves from the support they appeared to give the new whip rules. Both Frankie Dettori and Tony Mccoy were quoted in the BHA's review backing the tightenend regulations.

Now, through the Professional Jockeys Association, Dettori and McCoy say "In hindsight we would like to have given more thought and consideration to the new rules before commenting''.

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