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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

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16 Responses

  1. No less than beloved jockey Jerry Bailey asked if the whip was necessary to make the horses run faster. He said, no. In fact it makes some of them slow down. He was then asked why it was used? He said the owners (who are not necessarily horsemen) require it of the jockeys. I have a TB who was raced. She always placed, but never actually won a race. I studied her races and she did not respond well to the whip.

  2. Indeed, Ms. Jordan, horses are individuals and the whip is actually a disincentive for some of them. I’m not advocating ineffective or injudicious use of the whip. I doubt anyone wishes to witness a repeat of Calvin Borel’s use of the whip in his “winning” ride aboard Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward.

    Did the jockey(s) actually carry a whip when aboard your TB once you realized she didn’t respond well to it?

  3. With respect to the idea that not being allowed to claim foul in the Kentucky Derby is sacrosanct, cannot agree, although due to the unique conditions regarding the starting gate, and the importance of this piece of Americana, it would seem that the most prudent approach would be to implement unique rules. IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY BLATANT/INTENTIONAL INTERFERENCE by a rider/animal against another, no inquiry sign should be posted thereby bringing into question the validity of the outcome. Claims of foul by owners/trainers/jockeys should not be allowed. Rules regarding STIFF PENALTIES (months not days) for causing interference in the Derby should be implemented and adhered to. A separate camera should be trained on each horse and jockey to memorialize without controversy the trip of each animal. We waited 364 days to see this race, we certainly can wait an additional 15-20 minutes it might take to review the trip of each animal if and when there is ANY kind of possible interference that should change the outcome, or be cause for jockeys to be sanctioned or whipped.


  4. Very well said, TTT, but since one still can’t focus a functioning mind-reader on each individual jockey, bettors would still be faced with steward INTERPRETATION of the motivation for any alleged interference.

    At what point does one detect “blatant/intentional interference?” Before the head-on shot is viewable? What about before the individual starter videos? How about after those videos have been analyzed by humans and computers in a variety of motion speeds?

    I’m not advocating lesser sanctions for jockeys, and certainly not unwarranted payouts to undeserving connections.

    Unlike owners, and through them — trainers and jockeys — bettors have no remunerative recourse regarding placement adjustment. Indeed, dime super players are disenfranchised by Churchhill Downs on Derby Day.

    When the race is over, some subsets of players/customers will have already experienced an emotional gauntlet of disappointment or the excitement of success. Why is extending the set of disgruntled bettors necessary while playing musical chairs with a small minority subset; especially without the confirmation clarity of the photo-finish camera?

    I’ll be interested to see whether the 2020 TV coverage of the Derby will include interviews with last year’s stewards, and this year’s if there’s been any changes.

  5. Watching whipping horses is not a pleasure Until it`s Your Bet Horse who`s being whipped near the finish line trying to surpass whoever is leading up front. Hate to think about the pain that some juvenile fillies must feel in order to earn their keep and affection from owners,trainers,jockeys and bettors. All in all,i`d rather see jockeys` ability to ‘move’ ,spur the animal/athlete.Just ‘shifting gears’ with a whip is not right even if it has been done for centuries;it IS an abuse and i`m not a ballerina when i admit this.We`ve evolved is many things and the whipping should be eliminated ; let the jockeys show their ability to get along with the horse and not use him/her as a temporary , abused slave. Whipping,it ‘ain’t no talent !PS; How about having a certain maximum usage amount ,let`s say Four ,Six times ?

  6. Just two thoughts about all this; excessive whipping is not allowed in many quarters already.

    And as for a jockey and horse interfering with another rival in violation of the racing’s rules…let’s put it this way: The Kentucky Derby is not above the law.

  7. JP,
    Rules vary among jurisdictions, and CDI makes its own rules with regard to the Derby.

    In a maneuver giving the impression CDI thinks it is above the law, it usurped the ability to determine which races held in other jurisdictions can be used to qualify Derby candidates. In doing so, it eliminated the Illinois Derby as a traditional prep; ostensibly to disable a business rival.

    It no longer maintains graded events as the minimum level of competition for qualifying preps, and now reserves two starting gate slots for horses qualifying in races held in Europe and Japan, respectively. Turf races are included as qualifiers in those jurisdictions, but not in North America.

  8. JGR
    What would be the penalty for a 5th or 7th strike the first time for a jockey? How about the second or third, i.e., a repeat offense within a week, month, or year? Is the owner the only authority who should decide whether a whip should be used for encouragement on a specific horse?

    1. Indulto; these parameters have to be scrutinized by people more involved than most of us.Learning to ride without having to rely on a whip should be encouraged by all involved and use more of their athletic abilities and experiences with the Equines of all types,distances,races. From tight am workouts to slow gallops, from warm up jocks to the main premiere jockeys who will be riding them in important races,,but it has to start from the beginnings when both riders and juvenile horses are still slowly learning their ‘business and trade’. Abusing horses,especially cheap claimers whose only duty many times is to just win a race or two before being put to pasture,has been going on for too long. And i worry about all of those thousands of them whose value is much less than the purse for which they are running..So winning ,and being over whipped in a race and losing that same horse wont ever be a problem for the owner/trainer.. { Oscar Barrera Jr comes to mind among others ] I`m also thinking and comparing them to those Thousands of Greyhounds that are being killed every year ,that is ,abused until they are not winning and then,,,,,you know the rest. May all of them RIP .

  9. From Saturday’s Blood Horse:

    “Maryland Jockey Club Implements New Riding Crop Rule
    Rule on use of riding crop went into effect Jan. 9.

    … The rule reads: “A rider will be allowed to strike a horse no more than 10 times during the running of a race, with no more than three strikes in a row. A strike is considered a swing of the crop with the hand off of the rein or a downward strike from shoulder height with the hand on the rein.”
    The minimum fine for an offense will be $500.

    … The Jockeys’ Guild last month said it remains opposed to the elimination of use of the riding crop but for safety purposes. The organization also said it believes the industry can agree on a regulation that is safe and humane by allowing jockeys to use the crop in a controlled manner.”

  10. ” 10 Times” ?? I`m glad that the Maryland horse people and i are in the same ballpark BUT the 10 whips,,,, Should not there be a difference between running a 5 F race and a 1 and 1/2 mile one ? That maximum whipping in some 58 seconds seems too much to me…not as much in a long,distant route of 2 and a half minutes. Think of it as ‘low blows’ in a boxing or UFC quadrangle…[ Ouch !! ]

  11. JGR,
    Regardless of the distance, doesn’t the whipping usually occur at the beginning and end of a race?

    If the “new riding crops” are really painless, the number shouldn’t matter, but what about the trauma generated when the horse has been conditioned to expect pain will be immediately forthcoming, and then extends itself despite having a pre-existing injury?

    If a horse can be trained to give its best without a whip, or with a painless crop w/o ever experiencing a painful one, I’d like to give it a try, but would such horses always be competitive?

    If they start running 2YOs w/o any strikes permitted, would you bet those races?

  12. I-Man, So good to see you back on the keyboard, tap, tap, taping.

    Hail to Reason, or Reason to Hail, I think most all would recognize abuse of a whip when it occurs. The call is best left for stewards to oversee and judge the integrity of the riders and their intent. When they do not protect the integrity of the sport however, they need to be called out.

    Your comments regarding a jockey’s intent had me flashing back to Angel Codero aboard Codex in the 80’s. Coming off the far turn, Cordero looked back over his right shoulder and changed paths. He took an extremely wide angle away from the inner part of the track simply to intimidate a fast closing Genuine Risk. How Cordero and Codex ever stayed up, I will never understand.

    I would guess that reason was not allowed to prevail in this case. To big of a race to fail supported the concept that he Codex could not be taken down. Looking back at a youtube replay In this case, I invoke the mindset of Wendell C., and need ask “What the difference between a stakes and a claimer?”

    If a race is the biggest stakes race or the lowest of the low claimer types, a foul is a foul. There should be no separation of judgement in the value of integrity. A foul is a foul, even in a Derby.

  13. McD; did not want to mention jockeys like AC and several others who came to mind but the difference between claimers and stakes horses,to me, is that the former are temporary,almost rented,leased properties while the latter are a long term investments,blue chips.

  14. McD,
    If Codex had been taken down that day, then perhaps the DQ of MS would not have appeared so inconsistent at the very least. By not being consistent in their rulings (and applying different rules in different jurisdictions), the stewards encourage jockey misbehavior. If there isn’t agreement on what a foul is, then IMO there must be times when a foul is not a foul.

    How is forcing a horse to break from the inside post in the Derby, with insufficient room to maintain position, not itself a foul committed by management?

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