LOS ANGELES–The Jockeys’ Guild’s taking umbrage at not being invited to be a co-founder of the new horse racing safety coalition is not without its humorous aspects.
Whenever I hear the pro-whip lobby claim that “whips don’t hurt horses, I almost expect to hear a paraphrasing of the National Rifle Association’s mantra, i.e., “whips don’t hurt horses, people do.”
While extending one’s bare arm with a riding crop is not constitutionally protected, only jockeys are allowed to carry one–at least when they’re not sharing one as two riders did recently at Golden Gate Fields.
If current whips don’t inflict pain, how is it that horses react appropriately when the jockey “shows them the whip” or applies it?
Indeed, why would a horse ever respond to a “painless” riding crop without having experienced pain from some similar source earlier in its existence?
The reality is that jockeys require no less regulation and sanctions than trainers and owners relative to their respective roles as they compete for shares of purses, and only results count.
Within each group, the same minority predominates at the highest levels. As in most walks of life, increased reward invites increased risk.
Yet unnecessary risk-taking without obvious reward also occurs; sometimes involving riders with more to lose than gain.
In the latest such example, 2019’s top jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., rough-riding the second place finisher in Gulfstream’s H. Allen Jerkens Stakes could only have benefited the winner at that point, brother Jose.
A friend suggested that the noticeable drop in out-of-state handle at Santa Anita since it re-opened reflects the uncertainty outside California regarding its new whip rule that awaits implementation. I hope he’s right.
The use of the whip is necessary for both safety and encouragement, and that the situation needs to be addressed industry-wide with more common sense than it has been on the West Coast.
Banning whips seems to be less effective than banning jockeys who ride too aggressively and/or frequently resort to excessive whipping.
However, bans should serve as the final sanction to be taken only when punishment of previous violations have proven ineffective in changing behavior.
What shouldn’t be repeated, however, is the ban of trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from all TSG tracks without evidence of his having violated an existing rule and verification that other trainers are subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
The continued muting of California trainers on this issue suggests Hollendorfer isn’t popular among his colleagues; ironic that Jim Cassidy who spoke out against Hollendorfer last year had one of his own horses suffer a catastrophic injury this year.
The price of not playing by the rules must increase but the same rules must apply everywhere. Successively increasing individual financial penalties for repeat offenders, e.g., might drive them out without a ban.
Perhaps there are situations that merit preserving a horse’s placing but a sharing the resulting purse distributions with any competitor(s) judged to have been interfered with by the winner.
The unprecedented disqualification of the 2019 Kentucky Derby first-place finisher had multiple ramifications that racing should be better prepared to address going forward when fouls occur.
The Kentucky Derby is the lynchpin of U.S. racing that increases the status of “Derby Trail” prep races, lending focus to the succeeding Triple Crown series.
Consider the chaos arising from 20 horses breaking from two starting gates. For half of them, the primary obstacle is their post position. Many will not be competitive at the distance. Some won’t be able to handle a wet track or huge crowd noise.
And all exposed to the historical risk of career-stifling trauma from the Derby experience. Should such a race be adjudicated by the same standards that apply to smaller, better-matched fields at shorter distances?
Churchill Downs has the responsibility to its customers and to the industry it leads thanks to the popularity of its signature event. They must ensure confidence that the final result is correct.
All pari-mutuel payoffs involving the Kentucky Derby should reflect the natural order of finish; the Derby winner must be its first-place finisher.
Beyond that there can be multiple ways to resolve the financial impact of a foul on jockeys and horsemen.
Prior to declaring the race official, inquiries and foul claims would still require immediate review and candidates for purse re-distributions identified.
Actual amounts could be determined more deliberatively following input from the connections involved.