Animal Aid

Whipping for Profit: how horseracing rewards the cheat

Posted 9 January 2012

Though the British Horseracing Authority’s limits on whip use are clearer than ever before, when a jockey strikes a horse excessively or illegally, the result of the race always remains unchanged. It’s a bit like a sprinter keeping Olympic gold despite false starting, or a goal standing when the striker is ruled offside. In racing, cheats prosper.

Naturally, jockeys take full advantage. Among recent high profile cases is Jason Maguire’s ride in the 2011 Grand National. He whipped Ballabriggs 15 times after the last fence and passed the post first thus claiming the £535,000 prize-money for his connections. (Shortly afterwards, Ballabriggs was treated for potential dehydration and exhaustion; nearby, two other horses lay dead beneath tarpaulins.) Similarly, Frankie Detorri kept the 2011 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, despite hitting Rewilding 24 times. Some strikes resulted in the handle of the whip coming into contact with the horse’s flanks. Both jockeys were banned for a few days, but who cares when you’ve already pocketed 6 per cent of the huge prize money and 100 per cent of the glory?

More recently, on December 27th 2011, a horse called Palace Jester dead-heated for first place in a race at Chepstow that was televised by the BBC. Stewards immediately found jockey Maurice Linehan in breach of the rules. Not only had he used the whip with excessive frequency, but he had also used it improperly. Jockeys are forbidden from raising their whip arm above shoulder height for more than one strike. However, it would appear that Linehan more than once extended his arm above his shoulder in order to maximise the impact with which Palace Jester was struck. See the stills below (no prizes for guessing which jockey Linehan is!).

jockey Maurice Linehan whipping Palace Jester at Cheptow jockey Maurice Linehan whipping Palace Jester at Cheptow
jockey Maurice Linehan whipping Palace Jester at Cheptow jockey Maurice Linehan whipping Palace Jester at Cheptow

The Stewards suspended Linehan for five days. However, Palace Jester’s finishing position was left unchanged. This enabled his owner, trainer and jockey to collect their share of the prize money despite Linehan’s gratuitous rule-breaking. Is it any wonder that a staggering 47 per cent of racegoers feel that jockeys who misuse the whip get off too lightly?

Revealingly, the Chepstow Stewards also found Linehan guilty of ‘failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing’. In other words, because Linehan stopped riding in the last few yards of the race, Palace Jester was prevented from winning the race outright. For this breach of the rules, Linehan picked up a further ten-day ban (because failing to obtain the best possible placing is, in the BHA’s eyes, twice as serious as thrashing your horse with a whip).

Inevitably, the pro-whip lobby seized on the Stewards’ decision as evidence that the new whip rules are unworkable, claiming that Linehan was being punished both for being too hard and too soft on Palace Jester. ‘Difficult to get your head around, isn’t it?’ blogged fellow jockey Aidan Coleman, while the Sporting Life referred to the ruling as a ‘sorry postscript’ to a memorable race. However, the Stewards’ decision was actually entirely justified. Linehan did hit Palace Jester excessively. Equally true is that Linehan stopped riding Palace Jester before the finishing line. Why he did this is anybody’s guess. Fatigue, perhaps, from the beating he’d just administered? Or maybe Linehan had become so whip-happy that he momentarily forgot how to ride a horse with hands and heels alone? Either way, no contradiction arises between, on the one hand, striking a horse with illegal frequency and, on the other hand, misjudging where the winning post is.

Though the BHA has recently responded to pressure to amend the regulation on whip use, horses continue to be hit in ways that break the rules. For example, the BHA state that jockeys must not strike horses who have shown no response to previous hits, or are no longer in contention to win a race. But every day horses are whipped on British racecourses when they clearly have nothing left to give.

Indeed, the BHA’s rules themselves provide a telling insight into the kind of whip abuse that takes place. When horses bear the marks of whip abuse, Stewards are required to differentiate between a ‘minor weal’ and a ‘moderate weal’. Rules also deal with incidents of horses being struck by other jockeys’ whips (often across the face). And, according to a particularly disturbing section of the BHA’s regulations, offences that trigger a five-day ban include:

  • Striking own horse in annoyance with whip
  • Throwing whip at horse in annoyance
  • Punching/jabbing horse in annoyance
  • Kicking horse in annoyance

What kind of sport needs to regulate against such acts of cruelty? Surely it’s time for the pro-whip lobby to ask themselves what the whip is actually for. Some claim it’s a safety measure, but Norway has been racing without jockeys using the whip since 1982 and hundreds of whip-less races have taken place in Britain, mostly for apprentice jockeys. The carnage that the pro-whip lobby love to predict seems never to materialise. Another claim is that the whip improves the performance of a horse, but this needs to be set against the abject disgust most ordinary people feel about a mainstream sport legitimising and encouraging the whipping of helpless animals. 57 per cent of the British public want the whip banned. Let’s begin to educate those within racing that hitting horses has no place in modern sport.

Jockeys need to be weaned off the whip. But this can’t be achieved when those breaking the rules are rewarded handsomely, in terms of both prestige and prize-money. Horse racing doesn’t merely tolerate cheating; it incentivises cheating. And all at the expense of the one participant it claims to love: the racehorse.

© Dr Steve Jones, January 2012

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