The following piece first appeared in the June edition of 'Racing Ahead', Britain's premier racing magazine.
Sometimes jockeys try too hard. It is an occupational hazard. And the top jockeys seemingly always try hardest in the most prestigious races. Not that they don’t try their best in every race, it’s just in the big show-stopping races they are prepared to throw the kitchen sink and all the cutlery at the job if they believe it will make the difference between winning and losing. It has always been the same, I suspect.
The whip, and the use of, remains a contentious issue in racing; a knotty problem that lives for the limelight. Something needs to be done about it. And I have the solution.
There is the argument that if a jockey breaks the whip rules in winning a race the horse should be disqualified. At the stewards discretion a horse can be disqualified from first place if it is deemed the jockey was culpable in any manoeuvre that caused interference sufficient to suggest a rival was prevented from achieving a fair opportunity of winning. So why should a whip offence be any different? Owners, trainers, stable staff and punters lose out if a horse is disqualified due to interference, so why argue that it would be unfair on connections and punters if a horse is disqualified because a jockey has used his whip once, twice, three or thirteen times more than the rules allow?
The definition of rule suggests there is no wriggle-room for discretion: ‘official instructions, often written down, which tell you what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do’.
Joe Mercer was quoted as saying that if a horse does not go faster for one crack of the whip it will rarely go faster for two or more. I would argue as many races are lost because of overzealous use of the whip than are won by it. Another contentious argument, I agree, though one that my solution might provide a definitive answer to.
Banning jockeys has never worked as a deterrent. And never will. When it comes to the classics or any of the big races jockeys assume a must win attitude. I dare say their employers expect it of them. What is a ban anyway but a period of rest in a busy and relentless life style? The top jockeys are too wealthy to worry about not riding on a mundane Monday, a tedious Tuesday or a wearisome Wednesday, unless, of course, the Tuesday coincides with the first day of Royal Ascot, Goodwood or Cheltenham. Then it is a punishment worthy of petition to the Supreme Court and a promise to be a good jockey in the future. And if there is a Group 1 on any day of the ban, as things stand, it is not included as part of the ban. So if Ryan Moore has to give one of Aidan O’Brien’s ten cracks rather than eight to win the Derby that is exactly what he will do and commentators will wet themselves in eulogy of his brilliance. Not that Ryan will care one way or the other. He gives the impression of being one step removed from the ordinary world. He may be part horse, part human.
So here is my solution to the age-old problem:
Let’s assume Ryan Moore exceeds his quota of cracks in the Derby. My solution, though, would apply to a seller at Fontwell to a Group 1 at Royal Ascot, a maiden at Brighton to the Cheltenham Festival. Instead of a 4-day ban, which as I have said is nothing more than an enforced and sometimes inconvenient holiday, the jockey should be allowed to carry on riding but not be allowed to use his whip. He can carry it for purposes of safety, to keep a horse straight, for instance, but even in the tightest of finishes he is not allowed to use the whip in earnest. If he does use his whip during this 4-day period the prohibition is doubled, with no opt-outs for Group I’s. A jockey riding under such a prohibition might have to wear a hi-vis pink armband so that it is clear to the stewards and public that the prohibition is in place.
If an owner or trainer still wants a jockey with the prohibition to ride their horses, they will still be free to do so.
Every time a jockey breaks the whip rules the prohibition should be doubled what is was the previous time. And the prohibition kicks in the very next day. No ten day wait for the ban to be implemented. This, if nothing else, will keep a jockey’s mind focused, knowing he or she could be seriously disadvantaged in any coming big race, with the possibility that they might be jocked off in favour of a jockey riding without the prohibition.
I know jockeys will say this is unfair. That come the Derby and other big races some jockeys will be unable to use their whips while others can whip crack away. But that is the point. This possible solution to the ticklish problem is at the same time more lenient than the present procedure and yet far harsher.
As anyone with an eye to the changing world will fear the day when the call for a total ban on the whip may become impossible for the authorities to ignore; the prohibition solution might be the answer to allow jockeys to keep whip cracking away. Also, jockeys might also come to understand that some horses might respond with more enthusiasm if cajoled with hands and heels rather than having their bottoms smacked every time they race.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.