The British Horseracing Authority on Tuesday made a number of surprising amendments to the controversial whip rules. along with revisions to penalties already in place.
With the Cheltenham festival just three weeks away the BHA have taken the drastic measures to ensure that the premier meeting of the National Hunt is not overshadowed by the controversial rules.
Among the changes is to review a jockeys ride when the hit the trigger point of eight smacks in a race rather than automatically ban the rider as has been the course of action since the new rules came into force a few months ago.
Speaking to the Racing Post on the changes, BHA chief executive Paul Bittar, said “Over four months have passed since the introduction of the first set of whip rules following the Whip review.
“Despite a number of changes to both the rule and the accompanying penalty structure, it is clear that while many objectives of the Review are being met, and in particular those pertaining to horse welfare, a rule which polices the use of the whip based solely on a fixed number of strikes is fundamentally flawed.
“While well-intentioned, and in accordance with initial requests from jockeys for clarity and consistency via a fixed number, in practice the new rules have repeatedly thrown up examples of no consideration being given to the manner in which the whip is used as well as riders being awarded disproportionate penalties for the offence committed.”
Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), welcomed the changes.
He said in a statement released on Tuesday: “The PJA is pleased by today’s decision by the British Horseracing Authority to make important amendments to both the rules and the penalties relating to the use of the whip within racing.
“The adjustment to the penalty regime is welcome, as the previous penalty structure was not appropriate.
“However, of greater importance is the general change of approach to how the rules are fundamentally framed and applied, which was the overriding issue, not just for jockeys but for racing generally.
“This change recognises that a ‘grey’ issue cannot be proportionately and fairly regulated by a ‘black and white’ rule, and that jockeys are skilled horsemen who care passionately about horses and are being denied the ability to use their full skill and judgment throughout the course of the race.
“If this is implemented as the PJA believes is the intention, jockeys will no longer be punished for genuine, wholly unintended mistakes nor for otherwise perfectly acceptable rides.
“I will continue the dialogue with the BHA as they finalise the guidelines for how this approach will be implemented.
“Around 90 per cent of the offences under the rules that came into force in October 2011 would not have come close to constituting an offence under the old rules.
“Jockeys have collectively made Herculean efforts to change their riding styles overnight and deserve enormous credit not just for that but for their patience whilst discussions to find a sensible solution to the major issues were taking place.
“There might still need to be further minor adjustments and the PJA will continue to work closely with the BHA as part of the on-going monitoring.
“However, everyone hopes that once the revised interpretation of the rules comes into force, racing can return to talking about the positives, rather than focusing on and reinforcing an inaccurate and unwarranted impression of both the sport and its jockeys.
“This has been an on-going process over the last two months and I would therefore like to extend credit to my predecessor Kevin Darley for his efforts.
“Just because the PJA did not publicly and explicitly speak about certain concerns does not mean that they were not raised as fundamental issues for its members.”