The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is to talk to the jockeysâ€™ trade association in an attempt to put an end to bad publicity over whip offences after the top races.
Figures released yesterday show that, while the overall number of bans handed out to jockeys for misuse of the whip was down 9 per cent from 2014, infringements by winning riders in the top races doubled.
The most recent high-profile violation came from Paddy Brennan, who partnered Cue Card to a thrilling success in the William Hill King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. He was given an 11-day suspension and fined Â£4,200 for his efforts while Ruby Walsh, on runner-up Vautour, was also banned for two days.
Overall there can be little doubt that changes to the whip rules, permitting seven strikes in a Flat race and eight over jumps, have been effective. Offences are down by 48 per cent last year when compared with 2010, despite the thresholds for whip use virtually being halved.
â€œThe new data is encouraging and is evidence of an ongoing cultural change in the use of the whip by riders based in Britain, in line with the objectives of the Whip Review,â€ Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the BHA, said. â€œThose objectives include reducing the number of offences, creating a change in culture towards the whip and safeguarding equine welfare.
â€œPrior to the 2011 Whip Review the number of offences was rising at an unacceptable rate. However, under the new Rules the number of offences has nearly halved. This equates to a substantial, positive change to the manner in which the whip is being used in Britain.
â€œThe use of the whip in British Racing is not a welfare problem, but it is a welfare issue. It is essential that the sport is seen to put the welfare of the horse first at all times. The Rules and controls that we now have in place, along with the padded, energy-absorbing design of the whip, ensure that this is the case.
There is plainly still work to be done, though, and Stier added: â€œOne area of concern that arises from the 2015 data is the increased frequency of offences in races at the top level.
â€œWe have committed to a further analysis of this data and will be consulting with the Professional Jockeysâ€™ Association [PJA] to ensure that the Rules and penalty structure provide a sufficient deterrent, while remaining fair and proportionate.â€
Figures for the top five jumps jockeys last year make interesting reading. Richard Johnson was banned just once, in 1016 rides, as was Aidan Coleman, while Sam Twiston-Davies and Brian Hughes committed no offences. Noel Fehily fared worst of the quintet with three suspensions.
The fact that those riders, who will be involved in more tight finishes than most, can have so few whip bans from nearly 4,000 rides suggests that the rules are workable.
Paul Struthers, the chief executive at the PJA, said: â€œWe welcome confirmation that the number of instances where the use of the whip resulted in jockey suspensions of seven of more days fell by a third when compared to last year. This goes some way to putting the recent fuss into a more realistic and sensible context.
â€œWe understand that the rise in suspensions incurred in group and grade one races is something that the BHA are keen to have a closer look at, but our view is that a one year increase is no justification in itself to increase an already harsh penalty regime.
Ideas in some quarters that horses should be disqualified if their riders break the whip rules were given short shrift by Struthers, who added: â€œThose who advocate disqualification or some other form of Draconian deterrent on the basis that it is a panacea and will cease breaches overnight are not thinking it through.
â€œThere are many rules, both in racing and other sports, that result in disqualification but that doesnâ€™t prevent those rules from being broken inadvertently. I have absolutely no doubt it would exacerbate the problem, not solve it.â€
A couple of flicks of the whip from Bryan Cooper were enough to encourage Don Cossack on his way to an easy win in the Ladbrokes Ireland Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles yesterday.
Don Cossack had every chance when falling two out in the King George, having raced lazily through the race. That trait was again in evidence at Thurles, for all that he won easily in the end, and he will be fitted with cheekpieces in an attempt to sharpen him up when he tackles the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 18.
He beat just three rivals there, but small fields are unlikely to be a feature at Chester this year after the track announced that owners of every runner at the track will receive at least Â£400. The move is likely to cost the track around Â£250,000.
â€œWe want to be first and we want to lead in the industry,â€ Andrew Morris, clerk of the course at Chester, said.
â€œNo other racecourse has ever launched an appearance money scheme across an entire season. You can now bring a horse to Chester, have a great experience and even if you donâ€™t win any prize-money, you know you will get Â£400. We think thatâ€™s a pretty special offering.
â€œWe feel itâ€™s important to remember that for the majority of connections their horse does not win prize-money. We also know keeping a horse in training is expensive.
â€œWe want to reward those people who do own a horse and choose to run at Chester. This is an incentive to them.
â€œWe donâ€™t necessarily feel the success of this scheme will be measured by us seeing a huge percentage increase in the number of runners we have in 2016. However, we obviously do hope as a result of the scheme people will choose to run at Chester as opposed to other venues.
â€œWe race on a number of Saturdays that are competitive because of other fixtures taking place the same day, all of which are fighting for the same pool of runners. We hope a scheme such as this will push us forward in the eyes of connections and that it will act as a key driver in persuading people to run at Chester.â€
Rachel Hood, president of the Racehorse Ownersâ€™ Association, said, praised the initiative, saying: â€œOwners often incur significant costs when they have a runner, so offering a meaningful payment to offset those charges provides another reason to target races at Chester.
â€œThe fact is racecourses are competing with each other for runners, and we believe this innovation is exactly the type of thing that will influence owners when making their running plans.â€