The whip – so many questions, so few answers
Mike Deasy tries to answer the myriad questions raised by the BHA’s public consultation on the whip in racing, and has one or two suggestions
The BHA’s public consultation on the use of the whip, which comes to an end on Monday, has not exactly stirred up a hornets’ nest among racing’s followers, but there is frustration.
The frustration comes from resentfulness at a situation that’s been created by those who make lot of noisy protest about the whip’s use but have little interest in listening to reasonable argument or changing their minds.
And there is resignation that sooner or later the use of the whip will disappear for nothing other than the rider maintaining safety.
Racing’s fans are frustrated observers because there’s a feeling little is done to explain why, when and how the whip is used, and what the penalties are for improper use.
It’s a tricky tightrope to walk for the BHA.
They have produced an explanatory video in relation of the public consultation but it has to be seen as neutral and not trying to influence those who intend to respond to the consultation.
And there is the fine balance of not constantly shining a light on the contentious issue of the whip, but having effective messaging designed to reassure current and potential racegoers that whip use looks far worse than it is. “Why then use it?” is a reasonable response.
Such an information initiative was undertaken at the 2019 York’s Ebor Festival when the BHA gave racegoers the opportunity to examine the whip. There much of the time doing the demonstrating was the BHA’s head, Nick Rust.
Indeed, it’s occasional racegoers to whom the messaging should be directed. They’re happy to attend the sport and can take away first-hand experience of seeing what a whip looks like and how little it weighs.
They are then in possession of information with which they can respond when others claim the whip is cruel.
Would an alternative name to “the whip” help? Long-term perhaps, but it shouldn’t be euphemistic such as encourager – ‘safety stick’ maybe?
However, that presupposes that the whip ends up being used for the sole purpose of safety for the rider, other horses and their riders, and nearby observers such as ground staff or photographers.
Would that be a bad thing? Should the whip continue be a tool in the jockey’s armoury to get the best out of a horse?
Where a lot of racing’s followers agree is that improper use of the whip should be severely punished. The current penalties have reduced the number of whip offences but there are still, to put it kindly, rushes of blood to the head by some jockeys. And it makes unpleasant viewing.
But do you disqualify the horse if the jockey has broken the rules? That I think is dangerous territory. Is there enough time to review the ride and take subsequent disciplinary action resulting in disqualification?
And should punters end up with a losing bet if a horse is disqualified because of whip abuse?
It’s not always crystal-clear if a horse should be demoted for interference but there’s more categoric video evidence to help stewards arrive at a fair judgment. Not so for whip abuse.
These scribblings have previously suggested that a horse should not be demoted for whip abuse, therefore allowing winning punters to be paid out. But the status of race-winner and prizemoney should be withheld and redistributed down the field accordingly.
I hope the BHA can be resolute in coming to decisions about whip use. If it panders to those who want the whip outlawed as part of their agenda to get racing banned, they’ll celebrate a high-profile victory and move on with their longer-term objective of seeing off racing and other equine sports.
To me the answer lies, first, in educating those who are, perhaps, uncomfortable with the whip’s use but still in enjoy racing, therefore receptive to reasonable explanation.
Second, take rigorous disciplinary action to penalise those connected with a horse who has suffered whip abuse, keeping in mind it’s not the punter who should miss out.