A little more than a month after his appointment as Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), Paul Bittar has overseen planned changes to the growing unrest over the new whip rules, which were brought into practice on October 10.
From Thursday, February 23 – a crucial few weeks before the start of the Cheltenham Festival – further amendments will be made to the rules, which will see the fixed number of times a jockey is allowed to use a whip during a race replaced by consideration being given to the manner in which it is used together with frequency.
Speaking after a meeting of the BHA directors, at which the exisiting penalty structure was also revised, Bittar said: “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 the 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.
“The challenge is to have in place a rule and penalty structure which meets the objectives for fairness and proportionality outlined in the Whip Review while retaining the positives which have been a product of the changes to date. These include the virtual removal of all serious breaches and an overall reduction in the number of offences.”
The Professional Jockeys’ Association, which now has at its helm the former BHA Head of Communications Paul Struthers, welcomed the revisions to the rules.
In a statement following the announcement, Struthers said: “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 judgement throughout the course of the race.”
The RSPCA, however, was less welcoming of the proposed changes, describing the announcement as “a black day for racing”.
A statement released by its press office read: “It’s absolutely staggering that the BHA has taken such a clear backward step, less than six months after the new whip rules were introduced. Not only has the BHA failed to consult the RSPCA or other welfare groups about its plans but the decision flies in the face of scientific research which shows that excessive use of the whip actually increases the likelihood of falls.”
Bittar, in common with many racing industry professionals, countered that the BHA is “confident there is not a welfare problem associated with the use of the cushioned whip in British Racing”.
To download the full whip review document, including the most recent amendments, please click here.