Jumps: New Whip Rules Come Into Effect On Monday

Britain’s Horse Racing Authority asking jockeys to adjust their riding style a month before Cheltenham is like asking a golfer to change their swing just before The Masters, says former jockey Sam Thomas, who has won multiple Grade 1s.

The familiarization period for the new whip rules began on January 9th and the rules will go into effect on February 13th.

The race mail reports that the Cheltenham Festival, which starts on March 14, gives drivers just a month to adapt to the new rules and trainer Thomas, who drove the likes of Kauto Star and Denman to Class 1 success, is skeptical , as for their introduction so close to the festival.

“I would say it will take a very long time for riders to get used to the shoulder height rule,” he said. “In general, everyone can count, that’s the easy part, it will be very difficult to change your actual style. You see golfers trying to change their golf swing and being completely out of shape for a long time – it’s not easy to do.

“Everything needs an adjustment period, the start of the season would have made sense or the beginning of summer, that would have been a better time if people had fewer trips. It would have given them more time to adjust and get used to their style.”

Representatives from the BHA attended the Dublin Racing Festival last weekend to discuss the new whip rules with Irish-based jockeys, for whom the Cheltenham Festival is likely to be their first exposure to the changed rules.

Thomas believes their introduction so close to the marquee will result in jockeys being unnecessarily distracted during races and he expects there will be “many bans”.

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“I think it will be a real challenge for the drivers,” he added. “That’s another thing you don’t want to think about while driving. You have enough things to think about when you’re racing and it’s another thing that might distract you from what you should be thinking about.

“It won’t be easy for them and I imagine there will be a lot of suspensions. The jockeys have to be very careful.”

The new rules drew criticism from many senior jockeys, including Sean Quinlan, who announced he would have been suspended for 51 days after riding a winner at Sedgefield in January.

Harry Cobden called the rules “damned ridiculous” in an interview with the Racing Post in December, while champion jockey Harry Skelton and Nicky Henderson’s stable jockey Nico de Boinville also expressed concerns about the timing of their implementation.

The BHA said in a media statement last week that they worked with the PJA and jockeys throughout the embed period to determine where improvements could be made to race day procedures and the Whip Review Committee process.

This was the purpose of the embed time.

Over this period, they have refined the way the Stewards and Whip Review Committee evaluate rides as part of their operating procedures to ensure that the rules and policies are being applied proportionately, as intended and within policy.

These include, for example, refined procedures for stewards and the Whip Review Committee to help identify appropriate use of the whip above shoulder height.

Lord Windemere wins the Gold Cup at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival

In addition, they have slightly adjusted the way penalties are calculated to ensure they are applied proportionately. This includes ensuring that only offenses for use of the whip above the legal level in Class 1 and 2 races are doubled (noting that the vast majority of all whip-use offenses were above the legal level before the reform) and a tweak of how offenses are committed are aggregated when multiple offenses are committed in the same trip.

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A BHA spokesman said:

“The rules introduced on Monday are the result of a detailed consultation process aimed at encouraging more considered and sensible use of the stick.

“They are being introduced after a long familiarization period which has successfully allowed jockeys and officials to become familiar with the new rules and guidelines and identify where improvements can be made to their implementation or where some jockeys may need to adjust their riding style. This was the purpose of the embed time.

“We are grateful for the input from the PJA, NTF and a number of experienced riders and coaches and we have now reached a position where the new rules and guidelines are being implemented as intended.

“We were pleased to see the jockeys explain that it is now their responsibility to race within the new rules and to adjust their riding style where necessary. We have already experienced this during the embed period, for which the jockeys deserve kudos.”

The BHA also noted:

  • The most important change for drivers is the lowering of the usage thresholds. For most jockeys, this does not mean a major change in riding style. Those who had to change were given two months to do so.
  • It is not “new” for jockeys to break the rules for using the whip above shoulder height. This has been part of Britain’s – and other racing nations’ – whip rules for many years, alongside other elements such as:

The new rules:

The basic rules for in-race use introduced on February 13th for jump races and March 27th for flat races are as follows:

  • The whip can be used a maximum of six times in a flat race or seven times in a jump race. Anything beyond that prompts the stewards to inspect the trip.
  • In addition to the frequency with which the whip is used, the Whip Review Committee examines the force with which it is used, whether it was used from above shoulder height, whether the horse was given time to react, and the purpose for which the whip was used whether the horse was competing or clearly winning at the time of use and whether the whip was used in the correct place (i.e. on the horse’s hindquarters and not on the flanks).
  • Any driver found to have broken the rules or guidelines will face a ban and any driver who incurs the third ban within six months will be referred to the Judiciary Commission for punishment.
  • If the whip is used four or more times beyond the permitted limit, horse and rider will be disqualified from the race.
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