“You can use it, but not abuse it. I don’t like to use the stick too much. You never know how the horse will react. Some of them don’t like it. Some resent it. Some stop running.”

Jerry Bailey, Hall of Fame retired jockey

Saturday, a friend and I were watching on television as Cape Blanco barely held on to win The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Tom Durkin, the Belmont Park announcer, remarked in deep stretch that Irish jockey “Jamie Spencer is all over Cape Blanco,” which was a cosmetic way of saying that Spencer was aggressively working on him with a whip. My friend somewhat angrily commented: “I hate to see these horses being whipped.”

The next day, an on-air personality at TVG correctly said that Spencer’s whipping of Cape Blanco would have gotten him suspended had the race been run in England under the British Horseracing Authority’s revised whipping policy, which is going into effect as of October 10, 2011.

The British Horseracing Authority stipulates that a jockey cannot administer the whip more than seven times in flat races and eight times in steeplechase races. Moreover, a horse cannot be hit more than five times in the last furlong in flat races or past the last obstacle in jump races. This is a reduction of about half from the previous rules. A jockey found to be in violation of the new rules will, at the minimum, be suspended for five days and the jockey must pay his or her own fine if one is levied (in the past, the horse owner could pay it for the jockey).

The race won by Cape Blanco occurred, of course, at Belmont Park in New York and therefore was conducted under New York whipping rules. In part, the rules state:

“Although the use of a whip is not required, any jockey who uses a whip during a race is prohibited from whipping a horse:

(1) on the head, flanks or on any other part of its body other than the shoulders or hind quarters;

(2) during the post parade or after the race except when necessary to control the horse;

(3) excessively or brutally causing welts or breaks in the skin;

(4) when the horse is clearly out of the race or has obtained its maximum placing; or

(5) persistently even though the horse is showing no response under the whip.

Correct uses of the whip are:

(1) showing horses the whip before hitting them;

(2) using the whip in rhythm with the horse’s stride; and

(3) using the whip as an aid to maintain a horse running straight.”

The New York rules appear to be ambiguous as to whether Spencer’s ride was a transgression. What would have to be determined in particular is whether his whipping of Cape Blanco caused welts or breaks in the skin.

Horse racing in the United States is not well regarded by the general public, as shown in findings from the recent Jockey Club-sponsored McKinsey & Company study. Incidents of excessive whipping—such as in the case of Cape Blanco—only reinforce this negative image.  People who say that in-race whipping is usually not nearly as bad as it seems to spectators miss the point:  if the public perceives it as bad, it is.

The sensible path forward for American horse racing is to keep the whip in racing but more tightly limit its use—in line with what the British have done. However, one possible outcome must be precisely accounted for. Suppose that the Kentucky Derby is won by a horse whose jockey hits his mount twenty times during the race, including eight times in the final furlong. In this case, the horse must be disqualified for the jockey’s flouting of the rules or else the rules will not be much of a deterrent.

Public perception aside, the main reason that whipping rules in New York and other American jurisdictions should be stricter has to do with human decency and respect: a gallant racehorse giving his or her all should not be subjected to mistreatment like repeated whipping so that an owner can net a purse or a bettor can cash a ticket.

An acquaintance of mine used to own Standardbreds. His trainer had orders to instruct drivers of this fellow’s horses not to whip. The driver could shake the whip but was forbidden from actually having the whip touch the horse. The owner may have lost a few drivers and purses along the way, but he had peace of mind.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Click here for the video of the 2011 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.



  1. Jim culpepper says

    Lower the irons to a sane level where the jockeys can urge their mounts with their legs. Better balance will result in fewer broken bones and dead colts.

  2. Bill Shanklin says

    Here is another quote by jockey Jerry Bailey:

    “Look, if nobody has whips, what’s the problem? Everyone is still on a level playing field.”

  3. I have always been bothered by just the sound of the whip……..I hate the face that the constant urging may cause the horse to hurt itself. These a beautiful animals. I hate this aspect of the sport