Jockeys walked off the job yesterday in response to the Australian Racing Board’s controversial new whipping rules which restrict the number of times a jockey can whip a horse in the final leg of a race.
Champion trainer Lee Freedman says the public needs a more informed understanding of what whipping involves and what opponents to these new rules are actually proposing.
Q: What do the new rules propose?
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A: The new rule that’s come in to replace the old involves changing the type of whip that’s used and restricting the amount of times that the new whip is used.
Q: What’s the difference between the whips?
A: We’ve gone from a conventional whip to a padded whip which, according to all their expert advice — the Australian Racing Board — doesn’t hurt the horse in any way. So, the question then was — if it didn’t hurt the horse, why then is there the need to restrict its use as well? It was a pretty legitimate question, I would’ve thought.
Q: What do opponents to the whipping rule want?
A: The majority of industry participants — most jockeys, trainers, owners — have all accepted that the rule has changed and what we’re actually only looking for is a minor adjustment to the rule concerning the last 100m of a race. This is when jockeys are now getting suspended and fined for not being able to count exactly how many times they can hit the horse. It’s hard enough at a finish for a jockey to concentrate on his balance and getting the horse home — now he has to be counting the number of times he hits the horse.
Q: Do all horses need whipping at that stage of the race?
A: Not at all. And in their discretion at times quite a lot of jockeys don’t touch the horse over the last hundred. I think the public perception is that the jockeys just flail away and belt the horse senseless at that point. Nothing could be further from the truth. That would be about a quarter of one percent of the jockey population and they’re pulled into line by the rules.
Q: Do you train horses to respond to the whip or is it more of a natural instinct that they have?
A: We hardly ever use the whip in training. Hardly ever. They carry it but just to tap the horse — literally just tap the horse — down the shoulder with a back-handed slap just to get it to pick a bit up and run to the line a bit stronger. I don’t think I’ve ever used the whip flat-out in training.
Q: Would these new rules bring in new training techniques?
A: Most trainers don’t use the whip in training. The riders would carry it as a steering mechanism — you know, if a horse bailed up and didn’t want to go you might give it a smack around the backside just to get it to go forward. But that’s the only reason riders carry it at training.
Q: Are there other things a jockey can do to encourage the horse to go faster, apart from whipping it?
A: Absolutely. And they do every day of the week in racing. Pushing it forward with their hands, kicking with their heels, urging, you know all those other sorts of things. It’s just that this law has absolutely nailed them down to where it’s almost unworkable.
Q: Do these rules feature internationally or are they unique to Australia?
A: These are a set of rules that have been modelled on some European rules where the whip use is restricted — that’s true. But, to my knowledge anyway, the padded whip isn’t compulsory over there, where it is here. So we’re using a far softer whip with these rigid rules than they do in Europe. I think the people who are having all their say from the RSPCA and from the Australian Racing Board are trying to make us all out like, “Look what we’ve done — we’ve stopped these animals from being beaten senseless.” That’s a load of rubbish. And the other thing is no one’s asking for the rules to be scrapped per se. They want a minor amendment to the rule to make it more workable. That’s all.