A HIDING TO NOTHING : Analysis of the data
In this third section of A Hiding to Nothing, we present the results of our statistical analysis of the races, including where and when whipping occurs during a race, the different whipping styles of jockeys, the incentive to break the rules, and the effect on the horses of the current obsession with race-fixing.
Where, and with what frequency, does whipping occur in a race?
Races were split into three sectors: Start (s), Middle (m) and Finish (f).
Examples: 6f race = start: 0 to 2f; middle: 2f to 4f; finish: 4f to winning post.
2m Chase 13 fences = start: 0 to 3rd fence +; middle: 4th fence to 11th fence; finish: 3 fences out to the line.
Whipping in the first sector
The start of a race occasionally sees one or two horses being whipped. Under National Hunt rules, the whip might be used in an attempt to get a horse to run. NH horses are older and more experienced than those racing on All Weather courses or on the Flat. Where they are reluctant to 'perform' (e.g. Deano's Beano/ AP McCoy 1st Jan. '04) or are soured by racing, they are shown the whip by the jockey or by a starter's assistant. The latter stands behind the animal and cracks an extended whip, though without making contact. This assistant can be seen at all jump meetings.
At the start of Flat and All Weather races, jockeys who whip horses do so in an effort to gain a prominent position, or to catch up with the pace if the animal has been 'left in the stalls'. This can be seen most clearly in sprint races, where some horses do not like to be 'covered up'; also on sharp All Weather tracks where starts are close to bends and horses are drawn wide on the outside. Our study shows that, in races for two year olds, horses with race experience - though without great racing ability - were hit by riders hoping to gain a positional advantage over their inexperienced rivals.
Just one winner
A highly significant finding of our study was that, of all the horses whipped in the first sector of the 161 races studied, only one went on to win. (This winning horse was also whipped during the middle and finish sectors of the race.) This is strong evidence that no advantage can be gained by a rider who beats his/her mount in this early phase of a race.
Whipping in the middle sector
As races progress, the pace is usually set and jockeys should have established their positions. However, a number of jockeys resort to the whip in what is the middle sector of a race.
Horses whipped here may not be able to go the pace or have set the pace and are starting to tire. These are usually outsiders in the betting market, those running with a poor handicap weight, or of limited ability. A frequently offered 'justification' for hitting an animal at this stage is that 'the horse is lazy'; he or she has to be 'got at' to keep him/her going; or the animal is a 'difficult ride' and must be encouraged to go faster or work harder by use of the whip. The distinct pattern to emerge from our study is that, in the vast majority of cases, whipped horses still drop back out of contention or they make mistakes, which in the jumping game can prove fatal. Alternatively, a horse will lose his/her stride, change legs and become anxious (tail swish, sweat). None of these outcomes profit the jockey, owner, trainer or punter.
Just as only one horse who was whipped in the first sector of the races we studied went on to win, jockeys who whipped their mounts in the middle sector also hurt their chances of crossing the line first. Of 464 horses whipped in the second phase of our 161 races, only 17 were winners.
Whipping in the third sector
It was in the final stages of a race in all disciplines that we studied that more horses were whipped more often.
Whipping on the Flat increases appreciably at the 2 furlong pole in whatever distance race is being run. Similarly, on the All Weather courses, the short straights give rise to frequent whipping on the final bend; while over hurdles and chase fences, it is between two and three fences out that the whip is produced. Whipping in all these disciplines typically continues to the line.
What is the impact of all this whipping on the success or otherwise of the horse on the receiving end? While most horses in most races were whipped, the data show that there was a negative correlation between frequent whip use and winning. In fact, no fewer than 40 of our 161 races were won by horses who were not whipped at all - that is 25% of the total.
When it comes to examining the impact of the whip during the final bid for the line, another unexpected finding emerges. If we look at the horses finishing first and second and compare the number of times each was whipped, we find that the horses whipped the least - or who were not whipped at all - won more races than the horses hit the most. This was by a ratio of 82 to 51, with 28 of the 161 races drawn.
Looking at these data - relating to first and second placings - in reverse, we find that the most-whipped horses won just 51 of the 161 races: that is fewer than 30% of the total.
Taking this a step further and all being equal, the data demonstrate that, if the whip had not been used at all in any of the races we studied, 110 of the winning horses would still have triumphed - that's a 70% correlation with the actual results. And many of the 51 other winners may also have crossed the line first without the 'incentive' of the whip.
Jockeys and their whipping styles
Just as jockeys have individual riding styles - some developed from experience, some from tutoring, others favouring the American or European traditions - so whip use can be distinct to each jockey.
Whatever the preferred manner, jockeys are supposed to adhere to the guidelines of the Rules of Racing, or risk punishment. This usually involves being 'stood down' from race riding for one, two or three days, thereby losing fees of around £100 per ride (there could be between one and seven rides a day). They also miss out on the roughly 5% of prize money awarded to the riders of winning or placed horses.
Hitting on the neck and shoulders
It is a common misconception that whipping occurs only on the hind quarters. In reality, whipping down the shoulder, which in the majority of cases is actually the neck, is frequent and officially acceptable as long as the whip is used in the backhand position. A good race-reading eye is required to spot a horse being whipped down the neck, and it is especially hard to see whether or not the whip hand is off the reins (within the rules but frowned upon) or in an illegal forehand position.
Neck/shoulder whipping is often seen in AW and Flat races when horses are squeezed for room during bunching and jockeys cannot get their arms outstretched to strike the hind quarters. This usually occurs in the final stages of a race. It is also common at this point - in all race disciplines - to see horses being hit without first being 'shown' the whip.
Our study indicates that jockeys, having held back their horses for a late run, go on to use the whip to instil in the horse a sense of sudden and extreme urgency; the riders' intention being to burst through the pack. The use of the whip in this manner is fraught with problems. The force of the unexpected blow may alter the stride or balance of the horse, resulting in the animals drifting or jinking away from the whipped side. This was shown to interfere, to a varying extent, with one or more rival horses. These rivals may also be inadvertently struck - commonly in the face. Example: Fanny's Fancy Thursday 16th October 2003, Newmarket 4.00pm. On being hit in this manner, horses were seen to flash their heads away or in the air, thereby losing their momentum and composure. Their jockeys, typically, can be seen to snatch up the reins and, with this, the horse's chance of winning is gone. Poor use of the whip, therefore, sabotages the chances of other riders.
Incentive to break the rules
The penalties that fall to jockeys who break the whip rules are clearly outweighed by the prize money and glory on offer to winners. The 1998 Epsom Derby, for instance, was worth £40,468 to the winning jockey. That winner, Oliver Peslier, was banned for a whip offence after rapidly striking his horse, High Rise, 12 times. He was reported in the Racing Post as saying: 'I'd do it again.' For so long as the punishment for whip misuse is minimal and below other riding offences, jockeys will continue to break the rules. Only when winning offenders lose their prize money and the horse is disqualified - as is the case with the offence of interference with other riders - will jockeys think before striking a horse.
The impact on young horses
When two year olds first see a racecourse and are called upon to run, they are often - like children on their first day at school - nervous and 'green'. This report records many young horses being whipped numerous times.
'The front two, Fenton and Fitzpatrick hit their two year old horses 19 times between them. The horse, Freddie Freccles, was having his first race. Fitzpatrick, Williams and Mackay all hit their horses down the neck.'
Tues 21st October, 2003, Southwell 4.40 pm.
Down the neck strikes on these two year old newcomers came from Nichols, Ffrench and Sanders. Sanders' strike was early in the race with hands off the reins. Not a very good introduction to racing for Elusive Dream.'
Mon. 3rd November, 2003, Redcar 1.10pm.
Horses pay the price for obsession with race-fixing
Such is the ambiguity of the rules and their uneven interpretation by Stewards of Meetings that flagrant whip misuse is routine. Compounding this situation is the current preoccupation with race-fixing, triggered by the birth of Betting Exchanges, through which punters can back a horse to lose. Jockeys are now more carefully observed and suspicion arises when they are assumed not to be getting the most out of a horse. On such occasions, the big traditional bookmakers cry 'wolf' and ask the JC to inquire.
In this climate, enthusiastic whip use is seen as 'commitment', while riders who are more temperate fall under suspicion. By way of example, Huntingdon Stewards, on Tuesday 11th November 2003, questioned JP McNamara on his riding of Top Buck after the last. Yet the Jockey Statistics in this report show that McNamara's mean whip to rides ratio is one of the lowest. He has a good rapport with his horses and can understand their needs as well as his own. By contrast, the Huntingdon Stewards who questioned McNamara - a horseman who is respected by his contemporaries - were not troubled by Ashlee Price's 17 beatings of Six Star, a filly who was having her debut run over hurdles.
Unlike McNamara, many jockeys choose not to use their whip in the proscribed manner, or perhaps they act out of ignorance and believe they are within the parameters of allowable practice.
Click here for part 4 of the report, in which we present the seven worst rides where the whip was used.