Changes to whip rules about perception, not horse welfare. Such a pity Racing Australia lacks ticker.   Leave a comment

Changes to whip rules about perception, not horse welfare

Senior Sports Commentator

Racing is a bug. It bites you. Deep. Whatever the little critter releases into your blood stream it causes a chemical reaction. Endorphins gallop about your body.

What looks mundane from a distance has an excitement, charm and a thrill that makes the smallest function something fantastic.

A strapper leads a horse in the mounting yard, circling until the signal for the jockeys to mount up. You’ll hear the jingling of the gear. The bit, the bridle, the reins. It is the music of racing. You’ll hear the strapper’s voice too, mostly soothing but sometimes stern. Racing’s chorus.

You might see one horse sashay left and right as nerves become his jockey. Another might want to suddenly back up, find reverse and tug at the lead strap as the head pulls back hard and high. Whoa, whoa. Easy. Settle. The lyrics.

That is racing as a ritual. It is intoxicating.

And there’s racing as a scandal. Horses are whipped by jockeys; horses trained to jump fences at a pace. Last week in a maiden hurdle at Casterton, Try Pickle went out alive and came back dead. He fell at a hurdle and broke his leg. Try Pickle was put out of his misery behind a screen.

Then there’s news yesterday that Peter Moody, trainer of the unbeaten mare Black Caviar, faces three charges involving the drug cobalt. The charges relate to a positive swab returned by Lidari, which finished second at Flemington in the Turnbull Stakes.

Other leading Victorian trainers face charges relating to the administration of cobalt: Danny O’Brien, Mark Kavanagh and Lee and Shannon Hope. All charges relate to horses running in last year’s spring. NSW stewards are running cobalt cases as well.

No date has been set to hear the charges against the Victorian trainers. While there is no suggestion of guilt, the charges weigh heavily on the men and equally as heavily on racing itself. Moody and Black Caviar are famous around the racing world.

Racing is changing as the new technology increases and enhances the ability to punt. Crowds are shrinking as racing becomes more an app than a sport. What once were considered rituals will soon become relics. Just a trace of racing when it was at its pomp. When your spine shivered at the colour, the sound of horses and jockeys rushing the finishing post. And the noise of the whips.

Authorities have not given up their intention to maintain the rituals that gave racing its grace and nobility. In Victoria racing has gone to free-to-air television in the hope the sport will become more accessible.

This month Racing Australia will consider a change to rules that govern how many times a horse can be whipped. Oddly, and sadly, the decision will not be driven by consideration of the horse’s welfare but rather perception. Whipping circa 2015 is not a good look.

The rules were last changed in 2009 and were resisted desperately by the jockeys, owners and trainers. In fact, Australia’s riders went on strike to force an amendment in the rules. The jockeys wanted the right to hit their mounts more frequently than the new rules allowed. Surely that has not happened in any other country. A strike to strike and then strike again.

Racing authorities around the country are considering a Victorian change to the whipping rule. Racing Victoria chief executive Bernard Saundry said yesterday the proposition wanted no differentiation between a backhand and forehand strike.

Presently a horse can only be struck with a forehand action five times before the 100m but not in consecutive strides. However, the horse can be struck backhand as many times as the jockey wants to.

The new rules would have both forehand and backhand considered a strike. Victoria also proposed that from the 100m to the finishing post horses could not be struck in consecutive strides.

However, yesterday The Weekend Australian learned that a majority of state representatives believe Racing Australia would decide on a compromise. Jockeys will be limited to five strikes of any sort (backhand/forehand) before the 100m. However, the present rule to allow unrestricted whip riding from the 100m to the finish would not be amended.

That would be half-hearted, hardly brave reform. But at least it would ensure a horse might be struck 10 to 20 fewer times. Good for perception, marginally better for horse welfare.

The post-race ritual is special too. The horses return tired but still exhilarated by the competition against the rest of the field. They arrive in the mounting yard with steam lifting off their rump and flank. Strappers console the losers, praise and pat the money-winners. It is not easy, for the horses shuffle and shake their heads. The adrenalin drains from the body slowly.

They are led off to be washed down. Some have settled while others, full of themselves, prance about to suggest that only bad luck stopped them from winning. The owners always agree. Then you see them. The marks on the rump. Not welts but small grooves where the whip has belted into the horse.

That’s not perception. That’s reality. Such a pity Racing Australia lacks ticker.


Posted July 11, 2015 by belesprit09 in Uncategorized

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