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Use of whip by jockeys to be halved in new BHA racing guidelines 28/09/2011
Chris Cook
• Riders only able to use stick a maximum of eight times
• Serious breaches will result in loss of winning prize money

Jockeys will be restricted to using their whip a maximum of eight times in new rules unveiled by the British Horseracing Authority on Tuesday morning. Those who commit especially serious breaches of the whip guidelines will forfeit any prize money they gained in so doing.

The clampdown is the result of a 10-month review conducted by the BHA, during which the views of jockeys, trainers and racehorse owners were sought, as well as those of "recognised animal welfare bodies", named as the RSPCA, Scotland's SSPCA and World Horse Welfare.

Clarity is a major aim of the new regime, with old guidelines on acceptable frequency of use being swept away and replaced with "strict and easily understood limits". Jockeys will be allowed to use the whip a maximum of seven times in a Flat race or eight times in a jump race, and only five times in the final furlong or after the final obstacle. This is described as "roughly half the amount of times a whip could be used" in the past.

Penalties for breach will be increased and, in what counts as a radical new move for the world of horse racing, jockeys will forfeit their riding fees and prize money percentage in cases where they are given a ban of three days or more for misuse. The horse in question will not be disqualified, however, and trainers and owners will retain their share of prize money.

The review considered whether it was necessary to implement an outright ban but decided against it. "We don't think, on considered review, that the whip is cruel," Professor Tim Morris, director of equine science and welfare at the BHA, said.

"Jockeys have told us they need a whip for safety and to get the best performance from out of their horse. It could be cruel if misused. If you hit a resting horse with a stick, it can definitely be cruel, but it's very different from a padded racing whip in a race."

The new rules will come into force in less than a fortnight, on Monday 10 October.

The BHA published supportive quotes they had gathered from senior figures in the sport, including Tony McCoy, the BBC's reigning Sports Personality of the Year, who said: "I hope my colleagues embrace the proposed changes as being in the best interest of the sport. I for one support the changes."

McCoy is among those jockeys who came into repeated conflict with the old whip rules. In November 1998, he was given a 14-day ban under the "totting-up" rules which punish repeat offenders and was ordered to undergo tuition in acceptable whip use. At that point, he had already been champion jumps jockey for three years in a row. On New Year's Eve 2003, he was banned for hitting Deano's Beeno "approximately 50 times" before the race in an effort to get the reluctant horse to line up for the start.

Frankie Dettori, given a nine-day ban for misuse at Royal Ascot this summer, was quoted as saying: "I am not proud of having fallen foul of the whip rules in the past but I have never harmed a horse. These new rules are easy to understand, which will help all jockeys ride within them. I accept these new rules are in the best interest of our great sport and it is right that they should be in place in time for Britain's richest ever raceday, Qipco British Champions Day."

The RSPCA gave what it described as "a cautious welcome" to the review. Its equine consultant, David Muir, said: "We need to examine the report in detail, but at first sight it would appear the BHA has made some positive changes. 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.

"I sincerely hope that from now on jockeys will stay within the rules and keep their use of the whip to a minimum. Otherwise they are setting a bad example and making the sport of horse racing appear cruel."

The Scottish SPCA also welcomed the review and applauded its "clear commitment to animal welfare".

The BHA quoted support for their review from Paul Nicholls, the champion jumps trainer, and Sir Henry Cecil, the hugely popular Flat trainer whose Frankel will be the star attraction at next month's Champions Day. However, there was a less enthusiastic response from the Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.

"I don't think numbers [of times horses can be hit] are a great help," Twiston-Davies said. "It should be discretionary and, if abuse happens, the jockey should be punished but surely it's possible to use a whip more than eight times and it not be abuse."

Twiston-Davies said he would prefer a "commonsense" approach rather than the use of strict limits and expressed a concern that certain horses, who do not respond to a jockey's urgings unless the whip us used, may now be at a disadvantage. "I'm sure those horses will lose races that they otherwise could have won," he said, citing the example of Poker De Sivola, winner of the Betfred Gold Cup at Sandown in April.

Had the jockey Timmy Murphy been restricted to eight strokes of the whip, Twiston-Davies said, "there's no way that would have won". In fact, Murphy fell foul of the rules as they stood at the time, earning a two-day ban for using the whip with excessive frequency and without giving his mount time to respond.

However, Twiston-Davies gave his approval to the forfeiture of prize money by jockeys who breach the rules and said he preferred a financial penalty to a period of suspension. "It's these lengthy bans that I think are ridiculous," he said, pointing out the difficulty caused to connections of a high-profile horse who might be prevented from using their favoured jockey because of a whip ban earned in a minor race.

There was a much more critical response from Animal Aid, an animal rights organisation that has repeatedly campaigned against horse racing. A press release described the whip as a "brutal device" and noted that "no other animal is allowed to be whipped for sport in the way that a thoroughbred race horse is".

The changes would provide "no genuine deterrence", according to Animal Aid because the horse in question would not be disqualified and its owner and trainer would keep their prize money. The jockey "might well find he receives his reward through a more surreptitious route".

Animal Aid called for a total ban on whip use and for the BHA to be stripped of its powers, having "missed a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that horse welfare is amongst its concerns. Instead, it has shown once again that horse welfare counts for just about zero in an industry driven by greed and vanity."

Jamie Spencer, who has twice been British champion Flat jockey, gave a fatalistic response. "What will be, will be. They're the powers that be and this is what they've decided. Everyone gets a whip ban now and again but I'm sure this will be good for racing in the long run.

"I've always taken the view that, if [horses] won't go for three [strokes of the whip], they won't go for 23. The point about this is that it's a level playing field, the same for everyone and if you break the rules and win, you'll get punished for it."

Paddy Brennan, a Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey, said he accepted the need to do something. "They've gone into this with a very strict approach but, to be honest, I think they've had no option. I've been in a couple of the meetings and I've seen what they're up against and I think they've done well to keep the stick.

"I've been lucky enough to ride in France a bit in the last season and our rules are going to be more like theirs now, and I think it'll work well. Too much can be read into the whip. There'll be no advantage and no disadvantage if we can all use it the same number of times.

"Everybody's going to have their opinion. Some will be happy and some unhappy but I think they've done the right thing."

Brennan said that the prospect of forfeiting prize money did not worry him much – "I didn't become a jockey for the money" – but the prospect of longer bans was more of a concern, as it could mean missing a major race meeting for something done in a low-profile race.