Some of the world's most accomplished horsemen yesterday sat around a table with the British Horseracing Authority, whose drastic revision of the whip rules a week previously had ignited a sudden firestorm in the sport.
But a protracted delay in any official response to the submissions of Tony McCoy, Frankie Dettori and others seemed to imply either division or uncertainty within the regulators' own ranks.
McCoy and Dettori joined Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore in accompanying Kevin Darley, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, to a BHA board meeting. Hughes is refusing to ride under the new regime, having been caught out twice in four days by radical toughening in the definition and punishment of whip offences.
They gave first-hand accounts of the difficulties experienced over the past week, notably in the division of the maximum number of seven slaps — on the Flat — either side of the furlong pole, and their unhappiness with the severity of the new penalties.
Both these grievances had been united in astounding fashion at Ascot on Saturday when Christophe Soumillon was obliged to forfeit the biggest prize ever won by a jockey on British soil, exceeding £50,000, without even reaching the prescribed limit of seven slaps. Hughes, likewise, has been banned from the Breeders' Cup because he used the whip a sixth time inside the final furlong.
Jockeys had been planning a walkout at Pontefract and Windsor yesterday, but agreed to defer any strike after being invited to London to make their case.
On leaving the meeting, Darley had been positive about what he described as “open” exchanges.
“We put our points across and, hopefully, we can come up with a resolution as soon as possible,” he said. “It was great to have some jockeys there to put their point across about what happens when you are riding in a race. It's up to them to decide. If it's not favourable, we'll have to reconsider our position.”
The difficulties being experienced by even the most seasoned riders were illustrated shortly afterwards when Joe Fanning was given a five-day suspension for using his whip a sixth time inside the last when second on Dubious Escapade at Pontefract. Fanning, who evidently became the latest to misjudge the furlong pole, had been given just two whip bans over the previous two decades.
On the racetrack, it is business as unusual. The final Group One prize of the domestic season looks like proving sooner a matter of quality than quantity, with just nine hats left in the ring for the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Saturday, four of them from the same rack at Ballydoyle.
Of these, the bookmakers have most regard for Camelot, rated an obvious Epsom prospect ever since his impressive debut win at Leopardstown in the summer. But his stablemate Daddy Long Legs has strictly achieved more after winning the Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket last month.
With his American genes, however, this colt might yet develop into a Kentucky Derby contender and he could instead be sent on reconnaissance at the Breeders' Cup next month. The stable has two other options for Town Moor in Tibet and Learn, both promising maiden winners.
Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that precious bloodlines will be introduced to the nascent Chinese industry through two young Darley stallions in 2012.
Jalil, a son of Storm Cat, will stand in Beijing; Sousa, a Grade One winner in Australia by Galileo, is off to a farm in Inner Mongolia.
John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammad, said: “Sheikh Mohammed is eager to support the emergence of the Chinese thoroughbred industry, and particularly pleased he can contribute to the development of the Chinese racehorse.”