A Tale of Three Cities and Two Codes – Why It’s Time to Get Serious About the Whip Rule – And the Simple Way to Do It

 

whips

Here it is in black and white, as publicly stated by Racing Australia.

The whip rule was introduced to ensure that races are run fairly, to protect the welfare of horses, and to ensure the maximization of public confidence in the racing industry.

It could not have been painted any more clearly with a brush.

The rules will:

  1. Ensure that races are run fairly by the same rule applying to everyone
  2. Prevent horses from being unduly flogged by whips
  3. Make sure that (a) and (b) happen so that the public has confidence that racing is fair dinkum about cracking down on animal abuse and cheating

Furthermore, to prevent cheats from cheating, and horse bashers from bashing, the following will apply:

(a) A national standard of penalties to be dealt out to jockeys who breach the whip rule will be developed, and consistently applied to offenders across the nation

(b) Riders will lose their prize money percentages if they commit a bad breach of the whip rule

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That’s what Racing Australia said when it introduced the whip rule a decade ago.

It never happened.

There is no national standard penalty for a breach of the rule, and these is no uniform deduction of earning for riders who brazenly flout the rule.

Put very simply in base language, Racing Australia were full of shit.

So instead of a fair system that applies across all states to protect animal welfare and punish those who do the wrong thing, what we ended up with is a dogs breakfast.

Just have a look at the penalties handed down for whip rule breaches at the metro meetings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on the weekend, and you tell me if you think the rule is applied consistently and/or fairly.

These are the penalties handed down to jockeys in each state per number of whip strikes prior to the 100 metre mark.

A reprimand does not count as a penalty.

vibe

Sydney

8 – No penalty

7 – No penalty

6 No penalty

sam

Melbourne

11 Strikes – 10 meeting suspension

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Brisbane

10 – $300 fine (Jackson Murphy)

9 – $300 (Stephanie Lacy)

8 – $1500 fine (Brad Stewart)

7 – No penalty

6 – $500 (Justin Huxtable)

6 – No Penalty (Everyone else)

What can be taken from this is

  1. The Sydney Stewards don’t give a rats arse about the whip rule
  2. The Melbourne Stewards so, and are prepared to act
  3. The Brisbane Stewards simply don’t have a clue

How can Brad Steward be fined $1500 for using the whip improperly 8 times in Brisbane, while not one of the Sydney jockeys who did the same thing were fined a cent?

Why did the Queensland Stewards only hand out a $300 fine to Jackson Murphy, when for one additional strike prior to the 100m Sam Payne was suspended for 10 meetings?

What parity in sentencing formula did the Queensland Stewards apply when fining Stephanie Lacey $300 for an offence involving 1 less whip strike?

Where is the logic in fining apprentice Justin Huxtable a big $500 fine for 6 whip strikes prior to the 100 metre mark, when no jockey either at home in Brisbane, or in Sydney was fined a red cent for the same offence?

It’s a world gone mad, where the Stewards – in Brisbane at least – are able to seemingly pick penalty numbers out of a barrel and apply them to whomever they see fit, or don;t, as the case may be.

Stewart’s case in particular highlights the issue with the whip rule.

The top jockey’s recent record of breaches was cited as the reason for the imposition of such a weighty fine, but many jockeys have poor records of violations of the whip rule, and the only people who really know it are the jockeys themselves, form analysts and  writers like me who study Stewards Reports, and presumably – and I do say presumably -the Stewards themselves.

Do the Stewards in Queensland and across the other States keep a register of whip rule breach offences? If so, are these registers shared with officials in other jurisdictions (and indeed in other regions within a State) so that equitable sentencing procedures apply to visiting jockeys who commit an offence against the rule?

The answers of course are who knows, and no.

That has to change.

The QRIC recently announced that it would be publishing TCO2 levels of all horses from whom pre and post race swabs are taken (although this is yet to actually happen).

If racing integrity officials in Queensland and across the nation are serious about races being run fairly within the rules, and about the prevention of cruelty to racing animals, then the starting point is to publish and maintain in real time a register of all jockeys breaches of the whip rule, and the penalties imposed against the rider for these offences.

The publication of such a register would allow everyone – including jockeys – to know who is breaching the rule regularly (and who is not), and afford the basis for parity in sentencing within and across states. It would also send a clear message to the industry and the public that racing is serious about addressing the issue of whip use, and demonstrate that repeat offenders will be dealt with severely.

The second issue in the Stewart matter is that the jockey was sentenced on the basis of his ‘recent’ record.

What is recent, and what does it mean?

There is no such definition of the word in either the Australian Rules of Racing, or in the Local Rules.

Does recent mean in the past 3 days? The past week? The last year?

Who knows? It is clear as mud, and clearly open to the interpretation of the individual Steward or Stewards panel.

That is simply not good enough.

Jockeys, like and professional sportspeople, have the right to know what to expect if they break the rules of their sport, and they have the right to know how and on what basis they will be sentenced for infractions.

The only way to address this important issue is to publish sentencing guidelines, just as Harness Racing NSW does in the gaited code.

pens

Racing Australia promised us 11 years ago that the National Stewards Committee would do exactly this, and it hasn’t happened. Given that more a decade has passed tt’s fair to assume that it never will.

The States must now take the bit between their teeth and do it themselves.

It’s time to get serious about having a level playing field in racing.

It’s time to get serious about animal cruelty.

It’s time to get tough on cheating in racing and stamp down on offenders.

If its good enough for the trots, it’s good enough for the gallops.

It’s time.

Let’s do it.

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