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.)