The New Jersey Racing Commission is instituting a rule that riding crops or whips can be used by jockeys only for reasons of safety.  The Jockey Guild is suing to prevent the rule from being implemented.  Guild co-chairman John Velazquez stated the reasoning:

“We strongly believe the rule adopted by the New Jersey Racing Commission will have serious consequences and could result in even greater risks and dangers for both the horses and jockeys.  There are many instances when we need to be able to use the riding crop to prevent a dangerous situation from occurring that is not able to be seen or known by those who are not on the horse’s back. While purported to focus on the welfare of the horse, by not considering these instances, the new rule actually disregards the safety of the jockey and the horse.”

Empirical evidence pertaining to whip usage in horse racing recently became available in a British/Australian study titled “Is Whip Use Important to Thoroughbred Racing Integrity?  What Stewards’ Reports Reveal about Fairness to Punters, Jockeys and Horses.”  The full peer-reviewed report (which can be accessed at the end of this post) was published in late October 2020 on the scholarly open access website MDPI. 

Following is excerpted from the overview:

“As a multibillion-dollar industry involving gambling and animals, fairness is essential to thoroughbred racing. This is referred to as racing integrity. Whilst there are comprehensive rules and regulations governing equipment and conduct, whip use is the most publicly visible enforcement of integrity in racing. As a tool for ‘encouragement,’ whip use is believed to give everyone a fair chance of winning, including owners, trainers, jockeys, horses and punters. As a tool for ‘steering,’ whip use is also believed to be essential for the safety of the horse and jockey. However, the impact of whip use on steering and safety has not been studied. In this article, we compare ‘whipping-free’ races in Great Britain, where whips are held but not used with the more commonplace ‘whipping-permitted’ races. Our analysis of stewards’ reports for 126 races involving 1,178 starters over three years found no statistically significant differences between stewards having anything to report, movement on course, interference on course, incidents related to jockey behaviour or race finishing times. Our findings, that whip use is not related to racing integrity, support the normalisation of ‘whipping-free’ races, which we expect to improve horse welfare and social acceptance.”

The researchers/authors went on to explain their methodology and findings in more detail:

“The idea that whip use is critical to thoroughbred racing integrity is culturally entrenched but lacks empirical support. To test the longstanding beliefs that whip use aids steering, reduces interference, increases safety and improves finishing times, we conducted a mixed-method analysis of 126 race reports produced by official stewards of the British Horseracing Authority, representing 1,178 jockeys and their horses. We compared reports from 67 ‘Hands and Heels’ races, where whips are held but not used (whipping-free, WF), with 59 reports from case-matched races where whipping was permitted (whipping permitted, WP). Qualitative coding was used to identify and categorise units of analysis for statistical testing via logistic regression and linear mixed model regression. For both types of race, we explored stewards having anything to report at all, movement on course, interference on course, incidents related to jockey behaviour and finishing times. There were no statistically significant differences between WF and WP races for anything to report…jockey-related incidents…, and race times… That is, we found no evidence that whip use improves steering, reduces interference, increases safety or improves finishing times. These findings suggest that the WF races do not compromise racing integrity. They also highlight the need for more effective ways to improve the steering of horses.”

Findings from this study are obviously unsupportive of The Jockey Guild’s objection to whip rule curbs or bans.  It would assist state racing commissions across the United States to decide about whip-usage rules–in a fact-based manner–if the Jockey Guild were to respond to the soundness of the methodology and the validity of the results of this study.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

(The entire report along with the British and Australian authors’ names and affiliations can be accessed by clicking here.)


The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization recently announced that it had purchased small amounts of stock in publicly traded racino companies, namely Boyd Gaming, Gaming and Leisure Properties, Penn National Gaming, and VICI Properties.  Penn National Gaming owns the largest number of racetracks of any company in North America.

These firms operate racinos in Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.  Some of their many racetracks are Belterra Park, Evangeline Downs, Mahoning Valley, Mountaineer, Penn National, and Thistledown. 

PETA reportedly intends to offer eleven reform recommendations to the companies in which it now owns stock, such as banning medication for a horse in the two weeks leading up to a race; replacing dirt-track surfaces with synthetic surfaces; and banning whips (a change that lies within the purview of state racing regulatory bodies rather than racetracks.)

Kathy Guillermo, PETA Senior Vice President, said: “Track owners in California and Kentucky are changing their rules and sparing horses a gruesome death, and every track owner in every racing state needs to do the same.  PETA is eager to get inside the boardroom and push racetracks to make simple changes that will make a world of difference for vulnerable horses.”

The purpose here is not to discuss the merits of the eleven PETA proposals.  Rather, the intention is to evaluate the practicality of the stated PETA goal “to get inside the boardroom and push racetracks to make simple changes…”

Publicly traded companies almost always have social and governance initiatives advanced at annual meetings by activist shareholders that their respective boards of directors routinely advise shareholders to vote down, which they almost always do.  So it would be difficult, to say the least, for PETA to get a majority of shareholders to go along with a proposal that a board of directors is against.  Moreover, the eleven recommendations PETA has put forward are largely tactical matters that are decided by management rather than by boards of directors who properly focus on macro strategic and governance decisions.

The view here is that PETA will not have much success getting an audience with the board of directors of the aforementioned casino companies, for two reasons:  PETA does not own enough shares of stock to have much influence and most of their proposals are not sufficiently strategic to warrant the attention of boards of directors of large public corporations, especially in companies wherein horse racing is subordinate in importance to casino operations.

On a personal note, although I own a sizeable amount of stock in a well-known casino and racetrack corporation, it is doubtful that I could get the chief executive officer on the phone, much less influence a board of directors meeting.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business


Beginning in December 2018 and continuing throughout 2019, the number of on-track horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California soared and understandably produced a public relations nightmare for racing in the United States.  The national media reported on the fatalities, prominent political figures in California became involved, and various animal-protection groups were vehement in their criticism, rightfully so with so many horse casualties.  Horse racing can never be free of on-track horse breakdowns and fatalities, but the incidents at Santa Anita were far beyond the norm and were unacceptable.

The 2020 16-day fall meet at Santa Anita provided a welcome dose of good news:  no on-track fatalities occurred, either during racing or morning workouts.  Over the meet, there were 1,100 starts. 

For the entirety of 2020, Santa Anita was fatality-free in 99.89% of 4,871 starts.  This is equivalent to 1.02 fatalities per 1,000 starts, compared to 3.01 in 2019 and 2.04 in 2018.

In the wake of the rash of fatalities in late 2018 and throughout 2019, Santa Anita made marked changes in medication policies and instituted a voided claim rule.  The latter means that a person who purchases a horse in a claiming race can void the claim if the horse is grade two lame or higher on a grading scale devised by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.  This rule is meant as a deterrent to a trainer running a lame horse in order to foist the animal off to an unsuspecting party.

While a 16-day meet is not enough of a sample to make predictions, Santa Anita ownership and management appear to have made an effective course correction that has dramatically improved horse and rider safety. Del Mar near San Diego also has had reduced fatalities at its 2020 summer/fall meet, with a single horse fatality due to an awkward start rather than a breakdown. The winter and spring meet in late 2020 and early 2021 at Santa Anita will yield more evidence, as weather conditions, especially rain, will emerge as challenges to track conditions.

For now, things are looking up but it is too soon to break out the champagne.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business