Irish Jockeys Association warns of rider shortage over whip rule breaches

Over 120 riders have breached new rules since they were introduced in April

The growing spate of whip rule breaches has prompted a stark warning from the Irish Jockeys Association (IJA) about a potential shortage of riders available to ride in races.

Over 120 riders have breached new Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) whip regulations which were introduced in April and which put an eight-stroke limit on horses being struck.

Another controversial element is that riders are automatically ‘sent-on’ to appear before a Referrals Committee panel after a fourth breach of the rules, which comprise a range of other whip offences.

On Monday, five jockeys are due to appear before a panel. They include three senior Classic-winning jockeys – Kevin Manning, Chris Hayes, and this year's Epsom Derby winner, Séamus Heffernan.


He was referred on by the Cork stewards after a fourth offence on August 17th and was again sent-on a week later by officials at Killarney.

Manning, one of Ireland’s most respected riders, and an Epsom Derby winner on New Approach in 2008, was sent-on after a fourth offence at the Curragh just over two weeks ago.

Two other jockeys, Conor Orr and Gavin Ryan, will also appear before Monday's Referrals Committee, although it is the outcome of the Hayes hearing that could provoke particular interest.

In May Hayes was the first rider to pick up a mandatory six-day suspension after four offences.

The fourth of them, on Tarnawa in the Group Three Blue Wind Stakes, wasn’t for exceeding the eight-stroke limit but after the filly was found to be marked following the race.

Hayes was referred again after winning on Helvic Dream at Roscommon last month. The jockey struck the horse four times but Helvic Dream was found to be marked afterwards.

The Irish Jockeys Association has described as “plainly unjust” the rule which could see Hayes pick up another minimum six-day ban on Monday despite it being a relatively minor offence and his first since May.

The IJA has nominated a possible alternative totting up system, similar to Britain, whereby once a suspension is served the slate is wiped clean again.

However it's secretary, Andrew Coonan, warned of "a growing groundswell of discontent" among jockeys with both the rules and how they're being applied.

“This is escalating to a situation whereby we’re going to have a shortage or riders at this rate,” he said on Sunday.

“I’m very conscious of the delicate balance that we all have to work with here in terms of the appropriate treatment of animals and the sensitivities of people who don’t want to see the whip being used.

“But at the same time two things have happened here. The discretion of stewards is effectively removed after the third occasion a jockey breaches the rules. They don’t have adjudicating powers now.

“Secondly professional riders are being told they have no earnings for six days because of a potentially minor transgression.

“If I go to one of the officials and said ‘you’ve messed up and we’re taking six days earnings from you, there’s no lesser penalty and that’s your fourth time’. That’s just unjust, simple as that, and the riders feel very strongly about it.”

Coonan added that he has outlined these concerns to the IHRB and that every option is being examined by the IJA.

Conor Orr is the sole jump jockey among those appearing in front of the Referrals Committee, after which his four flat colleagues are scheduled to ride at Roscommon.

Ryan’s 7lb claim is being employed on Helvic Dream who returns to the scene of his course and distance win last time in the opener.

Having passed an inspection, and with heavy going forecast, Helvic Dream’s liking for cut in the ground could see him successfully concede weight.

Hayes has five rides and faces going light on the bottom-weight Dawn Of The West in the mares’ handicap.

It’s the filly’s first handicap but 8.5 in the conditions could prove a big plus for the Killarney winner.

In other news Dermot Weld has kept open the option of running his Galtres Stakes winner in the English St Leger in two weeks' time. She also holds an entry in the Irish Leger on the same weekend.

“I have no definite plan for Search For A Song. She has lots of entries but no final decision at the moment,” Weld reported.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column