Changes to whip rules in place before Cheltenham
Sweeping changes to the controversial whip rules are set to come into effect before next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
In his first major challenge since being appointed British Horseracing Authority chief executive, Paul Bittar proposed fresh amendments, approved at a board meeting yesterday.
The board has given the thumbs-up to a fundamental change to the rules governing use of the whip, which is due to be implemented in early March, together with revisions to the existing penalty structure, which come into effect tomorrow.
Rather than it being an automatic breach when a rider uses the whip eight times on the Flat and nine times over jumps, the figures become the trigger point for the stewards to review the ride in question.
Stewards will then consider how the rider has used the whip in the course of exceeding the allowed number before deciding whether a breach has occurred and a penalty is warranted.
Bittar said: “Despite a number of changes to both the rule and the accompanying penalty structure it is clear that a rule which polices the use of the whip based solely on a fixed number of strikes is fundamentally flawed.
“While well intentioned, in practice the new rules have repeatedly thrown up examples of no consideration being given to the manner in which the whip is used as well as riders being awarded disproportionate penalties.
“The challenge is to have in place a rule and penalty structure which meets the objectives for fairness and proportionality while retaining the positives which have been a product of the changes to date.
“These include the virtual removal of all serious breaches and an overall reduction in the number of offences.
“We are confident there is not a welfare problem associated with the use of the cushioned whip in British racing.
“The objective of this proposal is added discretion and common sense applied by stewards.”
Bittar's aim has been to try to prevent the Cheltenham Festival — which starts on March 13 — being overshadowed by the issue that has dogged the sport under both codes since last October.