The California Horse Racing Board approved what was described by its chairman, Gregory Ferraro, as “the most restrictive whip rule in North America and maybe the world” during its Thursday meeting at Los Alamitos.
Under the approved rule, which will undergo a 45-day review period before possible adoption, a riding crop cannot be used more than two times in succession and six times during the entirety of the race.
The CHRB’s approval follows months of debate and several revisions on a new rule for use of riding crops in the state. In addition to contact restrictions, use of the crop would also be limited to an underhanded position no higher than a rider’s shoulder.
“I realize at this time no one is happy, including me," Ferraro said. "But we’ve gotten to a point where we had to move. Somebody has to be first. We’d like to see a national rule. We’d certainly support it. But somebody has to be first. We’re first.”
Under California’s current whip rule, a jockey is allowed three strikes with the whip and then must allow the horse time to respond. There is no limit on the total number of contacts allowed during a race.
Representatives of the Jockeys' Guild asked the CHRB to consider its proposed rule, which is modeled off the British Horse Racing Authority that limits crop use to seven contacts. Jockey's Guild CEO Terry Meyocks also cited the recently-created Thoroughbred Safety Coalition as a vehicle for a uniform whip rule across the country.
"We think our proposal is fair," Meyocks said. "I also think it's very important that we have one rule in the United States and possibly for North America.
CHRB Chief Steward Darren McHargue, who won the 1978 Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey, said he understands the concerns of jockeys. However, he noted, “As I’ve gotten older and see jockeys striking horses in an aggressive manner, to me it appears to be wrong."
“The proposal that was issued this morning clearly defines how a jockey can use his crop to achieve a maximum placing,” McHargue said. “From an officiating standpoint and a jockey standpoint, the rule is simple and straightforward.”
Jockeys that violate the riding crop rule will be subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 and a three-day suspension.
After the public comment period lasting a month and a half, the rule will be brought back before the board for adoption.
In other news, CHRB Executive Director Rick Baedeker said the results of its investigation into the spate of breakdowns at Santa Anita won't be ready until the next CHRB meeting on Jan. 15. Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the CHRB, noted the results of a separate criminal investigation by the Los Angeles district attorney's office could come sooner.
The board also voted to prohibit the administration of bisphosphonates at any facility regulated by the CHRB and approved an amendment that would require the veterinary records of a claimed horse to be transferred to the new attending veterinarian.