Jockeys could face tougher penalties for breaching whip rules

Horses over a jump
The whip consultation is due to be completed by October

Jockeys could face tougher penalties for breaching whip rules by the end of this year after the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) agreed to a consultation on the issue.

It follows a "pivotal" review of equine welfare, which was published on Thursday and is intended to "address the sport's biggest challenges".

The Horse Welfare Board (HWB), which published the five-year strategy, said an increase in penalties was a "clear, minimum recommendation", which was accepted by the BHA.

The whip consultation is due to be completed by October, and could lead to an overhaul of the regulations.

The HWB did not explicitly state what should change in the rules, but said particular consideration should be paid to the penalties for repeat breaches, whip action offences - where jockeys use the whip above shoulder height - and jockeys found guilty of whip modification.

It also said the BHA whip consultation should gather views and "potentially consider" a future ban on jockeys using the whip for encouragement.

The ambition of HWB's strategy is that "every horse bred to race should lead - and be seen to lead - a life well-lived".

It will form the blueprint of the sport over the next five years and has been described by the BHA as a "landmark" moment.

The 130-page strategy tackled a range of welfare issues including euthanasia, traceability of thoroughbreds throughout their lives and the safety of starting stalls.

It also called for "continued, continuous improvement of obstacle design" in jump racing and the development of a "code of ethics" in racing.

In tackling the divisive issue of the whip, the Board noted the number of whip offences decreased by nearly 40% between 2010 and 2018.

Yet it found there has been a "significant relative and absolute increase in the use of the whip with the arm above shoulder height since 2016, which is a concern".

It concluded that its overarching position on the whip was: "Racing must signal a proactive, positive direction of travel in relation to the whip, taking steps to eliminate misuse and leading any discussions around the future removal of the whip for encouragement."

Barry Johnson, chairman of the HWB, said: "The horse is at the core of the Horse Welfare Board's philosophy, and our vision is one the industry should be inspired to attain. It ensures that, during the whole lifetime of the horse, all facets of its welfare are scrutinised, understood and, where possible, improved.

"The welfare of the horse is the most challenging debate affecting the racing industry today."

Annamarie Phelps, chair of the BHA, said: "The publication of this strategy is a landmark moment for the sport. A unified and coordinated approach around welfare will bring together the remarkable people and first-class work that already exists in the industry to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

"The scope of the ambition set out by the Horse Welfare Board was daunting at first glance. But it's based on the strongest of foundations - the pride, passion and dedication of the thousands of people who work in the racing industry."

Analysis

BBC horse racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght

Widely what was expected, but this is perhaps the loudest that the suggestion has been made of considering hitting owners, trainers, stable staff and punters, as well as jockeys themselves, through disqualification.

Supporters of the regulation, foam-padded whip will be mortified, but the chair of this strategy believes the number of infringements, though down, remains 'unpalatably' high, and it's been putting people off racing.

Though the whip is the headline-grabber here, a whole raft of welfare recommendations are made, notably that more effort be made to ensure horses are better monitored in their post-racing days.

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