Pandering to political correctness — that is the horseracing fraternity’s view of the controversial new whip regulations.
Downpatrick on Saturday hosted the first meeting in Northern Ireland since the new stricter whip rules came into force in Great Britain last Monday — a move which has already seen the threat of strike action by jockeys.
Meetings in Northern Ireland come under the control of the Irish horseracing authorities meaning Downpatrick’s meeting was not held under the contentious new guidelines.
But the whip rules in Ireland are currently under review with authorities here exploring the possibility of following the lead of their compatriots in Great Britain, where jockeys are now restricted to hitting a horse no more than seven times in Flat racing and eight times in National Hunt.
That is approximately half the number of times they were able to use the whip under the previous guidelines.
But the mood among the sport’s professionals operating at Downpatrick on Saturday was one of ‘don’t fix what ain’t broken’.
Seven-times champion trainer Noel Meade, who had a winner at Saturday’s meeting with He’s A Delight, called for a common sense approach.
“I would hope we would keep our sense of reason over here,” said Meade.
“I hope we see common sense in Ireland and stay the way we are.
“Horses are not being abused here and they are not being abused in England either.
“Nobody wants to see horses being hit but I think the authorities have been backed up against a wall and have allowed themselves to be put in that position.
“They have been pushed by outside forces.
“The authorities in England are going to have to sit down and talk to the jockeys.
“I think the problem is that the penalties don’t fit the crime.”
Irish-based jockeys, many of whom also ride regularly in Great Britain, have watched with interest as their colleagues across the water threatened strike action today which was only averted when the British Horseracing Authority agreed to talks with the Professional Jockeys Association.
Davy Russell, who had four rides at Downpatrick on Saturday, said: “The authorities haven’t spoken to us yet about any potential changes so maybe when they do we will know a bit more.
“We don’t really know the ins and outs of it.
“Obviously the jockeys in England are very strongly opposed to the new rules. They are professionals so you have to stand back and take a look at that.
“You have to take notice of what they are doing.”
Eddie O’Connell, who had two rides for Benburb trainer Jim Lambe, said: “I would definitely be against the new rules. But we haven’t got that problem yet.
“I’m happy with the regulations we have in place here.
“The new punishments are too severe. The jockeys don’t deserve the punishments.”
One well-placed racing source put the new whip rules down to ‘political correctness gone mad’.
“These new rules are no more than a public relations exercise by the horseracing industry,” he commented.
“It is an effort to pander to people who know nothing about racing — political correctness gone mad.”
The crowd on Saturday braved the elements to see a very competitive day’s racing.
The day marked the opening of a range of new facilities at the historic Co Down venue.
A new viewing area, rubber brick walking surface in the paddock, horse walkway from the stables to the paddock and a new park for horse lorries and trailers were all in use for the first time.
Another new innovation sees owners provided with a free meal at all Downpatrick meetings as a thank you for their support.
Racecourse manager Richard Lyttle said: “The changes will benefit racegoers, trainers, grooms and owners.”
A Johnny Cash tribute act followed Saturday’s racing.
The wet weather was enough to extinguish any ring of fire.