Keith Knight says racing must act now to end the bad publicity over whip use - or face severe consequences
Keith Knight on the dangers of ignoring whip abuse
In my previous piece for this magazine, where I heaped praise on our present-day race commentators, I mistakenly referred to Richard Hoiles, the best of the best, at least in my estimation, as Andrew Hoiles.
I am older than I wish to be, dear readers, with a brain that is increasingly becoming unfit for purpose. Take mercy as one day you too will be passed your best before date and unable to remember any of the passwords to your betting accounts.
There was a time I could recite the last 50 Derby or Grand National winners, jockeys, trainers, too. Now just trying to recall this year’s Derby winner requires a search party to enter the tumble-down synaptic connections of what passes for my brain. Once I was a workaday Sheldon Cooper, now I am Penny, the waitress at the Cheesecake Factory.
Younger people, though, do not have the same excuse for their mistakes and misdemeanours. Jockeys, for instance. They know the rules they must abide by, are reminded of them on a regular basis through reports in the Racing
Post when one of their number ‘get’s done’ by local stewards or when summoned to London to account for their misdeeds.
I refer, of course, to the whip, the cushioned leather ‘tickling’ stick that is to the jockey what the smart-phone is to the teenager – a sort of comfort blanket. Yet the whip, as innocuous as it might seem to the jockey, might yet become the implement that sets in motion the destruction of the sport we love.
Let me be more specific. The Labour Party has seemingly got into bed with ‘Animal Aid’, an organisation that purports to be a charity for the welfare of animals. Animal Aid wish to see horse racing, both flat and jumping, consigned to history alongside bearbaiting and other dishonourable socalled sporting pursuits. The Labour Party want an independent authority to oversee welfare issues within horse racing and if they come to power have a policy all lined-up and ready to put into action that will set an ultimate goal of nil fatalities in racing. Nil!
They would want to have not one single fatality in horse racing for the sport to continue. It would not be a certainty if nil could be achieved if it were the goal for donkeys giving rides on a beach, gymkhanas or Shetland pony Grand Nationals. We all would like to achieve nil, but living within the real world rather mitigates against such perfections.
Animal Aid and the Labour Party may be politically prejudiced and without doubt they are hypocritical, especially the Labour Party, as should a socialist movement advocate putting thousands upon thousands of men and women out of work, and blind to real issues of animal abuse. Pointing it out, though, to the public may not necessarily win the majority to our way of thinking.
Whip: to lash, to flog, to thrash, to beat. That is a dictionary definition of the word. And that is the public’s perception of the whip when it is in the hand of a jockey mounted on a horse. Referring to it as a ‘tickling stick’ will win no favour with a prejudiced jury. If a jockey was caught using his whip on his children, he would face a custodial sentence as no judge would accept a defence of ‘it’s no more than a tickling stick’.
To stave off this attack upon our sport, to gain us some ground in the public debate that is sure to follow, the BHB and racing’s stakeholders have to be seen to be proactive and begin a process that eventually will lead to restricting use of the whip to ‘corrective measures’. If the present guidelines are to be pursued, in the interim jockeys breaking those guidelines must result in the horse being disqualified. At the same time, and if I had my way starting on the all-weather come 2019, there should be a series of hands and heels races for professional jockeys. This experiment may prove vital to the survival of our sport. We will never win the argument, as hunting people lost the argument. Does anyone think if a jockey is taken to court for marking a horse during a race a jury will see hitting a horse to be any different to hitting a dog, cat or koala bear?
Not one of us, I hope, would think to hurt an animal, yet the ignorant majority associate people who use a whip on a horse as heartless and uncaring, whose only motivation is to use horses for their material gain.
Somewhere down the line a hard truth awaits us. We must prepare for the day when Parliamentary legislation bans use of the whip in horse racing. The Labour Party will one day rise to power. We must voluntarily begin the process ourselves. On January 1st 2019.
Putting the issue on the back-burner for later discussion is unacceptable. Unlike me, Animal Aid will not forget. They have an agenda.