KENTUCKY’S VAGUE SANCTIONS FOR ABUSIVE WHIPPING INVITE TROUBLE IN BC

In recent weeks, a host of people have rightfully decried the flailing of a few of the mounts in notable stakes races, primarily by European-based jockeys. Jamie Spencer worked over an injured Cape Blanco to win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park and Christophe Soumillon was suspended for five days and fined £50,000 for a whip violation in a race at Ascot’s British Champions Day.

Flagrant whipping should not occur in any race and especially not in the showcase Breeders’ Cup; it conveys a primitive image about horse racing and is widely considered to be inhumane. However, a close reading of the relevant Kentucky Horse Racing Commission rules raises concerns that the stewards can do little to prevent brazen whipping because the sanctions are vague and weak.

The rules (reproduced verbatim at the end of this article) forbid a jockey from whipping a horse “excessively or brutally.” Two particularly pertinent statements governing abusive whipping and sanctions for such are as follows:

“After the race, a horse may be subject to inspection by a racing official or official veterinarian looking for cuts, welts or bruises in the skin. Any adverse findings shall be reported to the stewards.

The giving of instructions by any licensee that if obeyed would lead to a violation of this section may result in disciplinary action also being taken against the licensee who gave the instructions.”

The language pertaining to what constitutes a violation is unambiguous—“cuts, welts or bruises in the skin.” On the other hand, note the lack of any language whatsoever regarding the punishment stewards can mete out to the offending jockey. The rules state only that “a violation of this section may result in disciplinary action also being taken against the licensee who gave the instructions.” The word “also” is confusing because no mention is made in the first place of the appropriate punishment for jockeys. Lastly, there is no language at all about how many times a jockey is permitted to administer the whip.

Consider this scenario. A jockey in the Breeders’ Cup Turf blatantly whips his mount down the stretch (to the chagrin of fans at the track and a worldwide television audience) and produces plenty of evidence in the form of cuts, welts, and bruises. The horse wins and a state veterinarian inspects him on the racetrack and immediately informs the stewards of the extent of the damage the jockey inflicted.

If you were a steward, would it be absolutely clear to you in the heat of the moment–from reading and interpreting the Kentucky rules–what you could do and should do immediately about this egregious  incident in which the jockey showed such contempt and gained an unfair advantage?

For example, do the stewards have the authority to disqualify the winning horse for the jockey’s manifest violation? Even if the stewards did disqualify the horse could that be deemed, on appeal, too harsh of a penalty under the amorphous rules?

At most, stewards might later be able to suspend the jockey for five days and impose a stiff fine, which is a price he may be ready to pay for a Breeders’ Cup win. By then, the pubic-relations damage (from outraged fans and bettors) would have already been done and the effects would linger, as with the Life at Ten fiasco in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup.

Regrettably, the sanctions that stewards can impose in Kentucky for excessive whipping are not spelled out. Therefore, the stewards don’t have the guidance and authority they need to make sure that a whip-prone jockey doesn’t mar the Breeders’ Cup spectacle and get away with it relatively unscathed.

The solution to the whipping problem may be to follow the inclination of Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey and ban whips altogether. Bailey commented:   “Look, if nobody has whips, what’s the problem? Everyone is still on a level playing field.”

Even if one makes the argument that today’s padded whips don’t do physical damage to a horse, the fact remains that the public perceives otherwise–and perception is reality.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Rules:

810 KAR 1:016. Running of the race.

Section 15. Use of Riding Crops.

(1) Although the use of a riding crop is not required, a jockey who uses a riding crop during a race shall do so only in a manner consistent with exerting his or her best efforts to win.

(2) In any race in which a jockey will ride without a riding crop, an announcement of that fact shall be made over the public address system.

(3) An electrical or mechanical device or other expedient designed to increase or retard the speed of a horse, other than a riding crop approved by the stewards, pursuant to 810 KAR 1:012 shall not be possessed by anyone, or applied by anyone to a horse at any time, on the grounds of the association during a race meeting, whether during a race or otherwise.

(4) A riding crop shall not be used on a two (2) year-old horse in races before April 1 of each year.

(5) A riding crop shall only be used for safety, correction and encouragement.

(6) A rider who uses a riding crop shall:

(a) Show the horse the riding crop and give the horse time to respond before striking the horse;

(b) Having used the riding crop, give the horse a chance to respond before using it again; and

(c) Use the riding crop in rhythm with the horse’s stride.

(7) A riding crop shall not be used to strike a horse:

(a) On the head, flanks or on any other part of its body other than the shoulders or hind quarters except if necessary to control a horse;

(b) During the post parade or after the finish of the race except if necessary to control the horse;

(c) Excessively or brutally;

(d) Causing welts or breaks in the skin;

(e) If the horse is clearly out of the race or has obtained its maximum placing; and

(f) Persistently even though the horse is showing no response under the riding crop.

(8) A riding crop shall not be used to strike another person.

(9) After the race, a horse may be subject to inspection by a racing official or official veterinarian looking for cuts, welts or bruises in the skin. Any adverse findings shall be reported to the stewards.

(10) The giving of instructions by any licensee that if obeyed would lead to a violation of this section may result in disciplinary action also being taken against the licensee who gave the instructions.

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