Jockeys Keep Whipping, Adding Urgency for Some to a Horse Racing Debate   Leave a comment


An exercise rider with a riding crop at Belmont Park. CreditVictor J. Blue for The New York Times

Present it so that the horse understands.

Strike it in rhythm with the horse’s stride, but only on the shoulders or the hindquarters. Resist its use if the horse is out of the race, or has reached its maximum placing, or is not responding. Excessive or brutal use is prohibited.

So states Section 4035.9 of the New York State Gaming Commission’s rules of racing, which addresses the riding crop – the term preferred by a horse racing industry forever grappling with the perception of a standard piece of equipment better known as the whip.

With the chance that American Pharoah might claim the first Triple Crown since 1978 by winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, millions who do not normally follow horse racing may once again see jockeys whipping horses to go faster in pursuit of glory and purse. It is an image that can be heart-pounding and disturbing.

Concerned by what they say is largely a misperception, racing officials have toughened the rules, emphasized education and redesigned the whip. But it remains an essential tool of behavior modification, they say, given how jockeys ride: crouched out of the saddle, hovering over the half-ton animal in galloping, aerodynamic rhythm.


Victor Espinoza, left, riding American Pharoah to victory in the Kentucky Derby. Espinoza struck American Pharoah more than 30 times — on the saddle blanket, Espinoza’s defenders say — in the race. CreditGarry Jones/Associated Press

Richard Migliore, a former jockey once known for forcefully using his whip and now a prominent advocate for minimizing its use, put it this way: “The crop can be effective without being abusive.”

Still, questions about the whip have figured into the thoroughbred American Pharoah’s pursuit of the Triple Crown. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, was fined $300 by California racing officials in April for breaking the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks, a race she won by more than five lengths. And in last month’s Kentucky Derby win, he struck American Pharoah more than 30 times, although he did not rely on his crop in a muddy win at the Preakness Stakes two weeks later.

How horses feel about the whip has gone largely unrecorded. But in 1854, an English writer named John Mills channeled a particularly articulate horse named Sheet Anchor, in a book called “The Life of a Racehorse.”

“Like the hare, the impulse of our nature is to flee from that which terrifies us,” Sheet Anchor muses at one point. “If our physical powers of attack and defense be great, yet still we are denied the necessary courage to render them effective, otherwise it would frequently go hard indeed with those who exercise little moderation in applying the whip and spur to the exhausted but willing horse.”

More than a century later, a former Australian jockey named Walter Hoysted crusaded against whipping racehorses, especially those doing their best. Frustrated by his failed letter-writing campaign in the mid-1960s, he put down his pen in favor of a loaded shotgun, went to a racetrack in Melbourne, and threatened to use the gun if jockeys used their whips.

According to “Horse-Racing’s Strangest Races,” by Andrew Ward, his lawyer later said in his client’s defense: “Mr. Hoysted is perhaps a humanist 10 years ahead of his time.”

But in the United States, at least, heavy reliance on the whip continued. Migliore, who began riding in 1980, recalled that jockeys were admired for their hard use of the whip, or “stick” — and he was no different. By midcareer, he said, he had become so focused on winning that “I lost my connection to the animal.”

“I was riding the horse and going to the whip,” he said. “Sometimes I didn’t get the desired response, but I didn’t let up. Instead of relying on my instincts that I was not getting the best from my horse, I was basically abusing my horse.”

Migliore does not look back on that part of his career with pride. But he changed.

So did Dr. Ted Hill, a longtime veterinarian and New York Racing Association steward who has enforced the rules for nearly 20 years. It seemed that every August, some friend or relative visiting him during the season at Saratoga Springs would ask the same question about the whip: Doesn’t that hurt?


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“Having to explain, to justify,” Hill said. “It’s certainly changed my thinking a little bit.”

Also changing the collective thinking was the heartbreaking Kentucky Derby of 2008, when Eight Belles was euthanized after fracturing her front ankles. Although the whip did not play a direct role in her demise, its use figured in the reforms that followed.


Posted June 6, 2015 by belesprit09 in Uncategorized

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