Santa Anita's no-whip test on hold; 'It would change the game'

April 10, 2019 01:57pm

The Jockeys’ Guild has postponed a historic moment originally scheduled for Friday’s races at Santa Anita Park that would have seen riders race without carrying a whip.

“For the past month we have received virtually no support from industry organizations in California until contacted by the (Thoroughbred Owners of California) in the last day and a half," said Terry Meyocks, Jockeys’ Guild President and CEO. "In the interest of moving forward to create a safer environment for both equine and human athletes, we have agreed to work with the TOC to come to a mutually agreeable position on riding crop usage in California to be submitted to the (California Horse Racing Board.”

This comes amid a 45-day comment period for
a CHRB measure on whip reform.

Should the new rule pass, jockeys can carry whips, technically referred to as riding crops, but they will be restricted in when they can use them. The Jockeys’ Guild is in favor status quo, granting riders more control, and has said modern-day crops do not harm horses.

The conversation was spurred on by The Stronach Group, owner and operator of Santa Anita Park, which lumped whip reform in with medication rules changes in the wake of 23 equine fatalities since Dec. 26 at the Arcadia, Calif., track.

Responses have been numerous.

“It would change the game. It’s a big safety issue,” said Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in an interview on RacingTV’s
Luck on Sunday program. “You’re talking about a 1,200-pound, powerful animal. You have to have something to control them. If this happens, it will become very dangerous. There’s a lot more to it. 

“If you never rode a horse, then you wouldn’t understand the purpose of the riding crop, but you would appreciate it if you did.”

(Jockey Mike Smith. Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire)

The Jockeys’ Guild had planned to consult with riders between races Friday at Santa Anita given total lack of a whip.

“It will be an interesting experiment,” Southern California-based trainer Richard Mandella said on a national media teleconference held Monday, before the postponement was announced. “I think it’ll be tried, and hopefully adjustments made will make the game better.”

Jeff Bloom, head of the Bloom Racing Stable and a former jockey, sees this as, “a big mistake to experiment with no whips” at any time.

“I’m not a fan,” Bloom said on the teleconference. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for a number of reasons. I do think it’s important to police and have some oversight in terms of preventing the abuse or overuse of a whip, but for a number of reasons, I think it’s incredibly important for jockeys to have the whip as a tool to, not only prevent certain situations from happening during the course of a race.”

Following the comment period, whip reform will undergo another California Horse Racing Board vote. Belinda Stronach, chairman of TSG, announced March 14 the intentions to ban whips aside from using them as a “corrective safety measure.”

“I think the new safety whips, or ‘poppers’ whips that they have today,” Bloom said, “it’s more the use of a tool that isn’t causing any harm or pain to horses, more just the actual popping sounds and the visibility of the whip in those situations.”

Smith, who won the Triple Crown last year aboard Justify, compared the modern day whip to
a Nerf thing you would buy for your kids to play with. In no way whatsoever are we hurting these horses with them.”

Jockeys also rode last weekend at Keeneland with a model called the 360 GT, which is round in shape and prevents a rider from striking a horse with any sort of edge.

“I just think the whips are already regulated,” said jockey Jon Court, who at age 58 is bidding to become the Kentucky Derby’s oldest rider out of Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1), in which he rides Long Range Toddy. “There’s a large majority of people that feel like it’s abusive and I just don’t share that opinion with them.”

Court said, for instance, that last weekend’s Santa Anita Derby (G1) “would have been a totally different race, and probably, considerably boring” without whips.

Court referred to the finish of the race, in which Roadster rallied through the turn and delivered a strong run down the center of the track, just getting past Game winner.

And so the future of whip use in California — which could then translate elsewhere in the U.S. — remains unknown. 

“I guess we’ll just see what happens,” Smith said. “I know the whip is an important tool. It’s crucial to the race.”


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