Jockeys rail against ‘plainly unjust’ whip rules
No whip inquiries at Derby festival indicates bedding-in period now over, claims regulator
Ronan Whelan begins a six-day ban by missing out at Bellewstown on Wednesday after falling foul of the rules. Photograph: Inpho
There is “growing unease” among Ireland’s professional jockeys about potential longer-term repercussions from the whip-rule changes that came into force in April.
The introduction of automatic stewards’ inquiries for any rider who strikes a horse more than eight times marked an immediate spike in penalties. To date three jockeys have appeared before a referrals committee panel having been referred on by racecourse stewards after a fourth whip offence.
The first of those was classic-winning jockey Chris Hayes who in May received a mandatory minimum six-day suspension. Two other riders, Group One winning jockey Ronan Whelan, and apprentice Joey Sheridan, begin six-day bans by missing out at Bellewstown on Wednesday after falling foul of the rules.
A set figure for strikes, and mandatory penalties as a result of breaking the rules, has proved a contentious issue. When the new rules were announced, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) was told by the Irish Jockeys Association (IJA) it would “rue the day” riders were restricted to eight strikes.
However, the three-day Derby festival at the Curragh was notable for no whip inquiries. That was in contrast to Royal Ascot where there were 11 separate offences and nine jockeys were sanctioned for use of the whip.
IJA secretary Andrew Coonan noted that as evidence of how jockeys are doing their best to ride within the new rules. But he also said on Monday that the rules regarding penalties for riders who’ve already served whip bans are “plainly unjust”.
“Under the present system we’ve three riders who’ve already been referred. If their good records continue without blemish over the next 11 months, but at the end of that 11 month period if they transgress on one occasion only, they will be back before the referrals committee, said Coonan.
“That will be counted as a fifth offence and they would get a minimum six-day penalty and whatever else the referrals committee might give, notwithstanding the fact the jockey might have effectively ridden three to four hundred horses over an 11 month period blemish-free up to then.
“Now that’s plainly unjust . . . It’s a fundamental concern and I’ve raised it with the IHRB.”
Is rule an unreasonable burden?
Coonan added that such a referral in a rolling one-year period could come after a jockey goes one strike over the limit, or hits a horse in the wrong place or marks a horse, situations that would ordinarily provoke nothing more than a caution if it was a first offence.
“To ask them to never transgress over that period of time, for them to do so, it would be a huge achievement,” he said.
“This is what it used to be in the UK and they realised it didn’t work so they changed it to a totting up system where your slate is wiped clean and you start again. There is growing unease among riders. I’m not saying the UK system is the absolute answer. I’ve certainly never slavishly followed British Horseracing Authority rules. But they’ve been down this road.
“I was against the idea of a mandatory minimum in the first place but this needs to be looked at by the governing body and the jockeys to see how best to improve things but also be fair to riders because they’re the ones losing out on wages,” added Coonan.
An IHRB spokesman responded by saying the rules are always up for review but pointed to the Curragh’s Derby festival as a sign that whip behaviour is altering.
“It was three days with a lot of prize money and some high-profile races and there wasn’t one inquiry. That would suggest the bedding-in period has elapsed,” he said.
In response Coonan said: “There is an acceptance [among jockeys] that penalties are being mandatorily enforced and that is reflected in their riding. [But] I don’t there’s radical change here.”