THE REALITIES OF WHIP USE IN THE RACING INDUSTRY IN 2014 AND BEYOND

23/01/14

Oh how the world changes. Drive around a major city like Brisbane today then don’t repeat the same exercise for another 52 weeks and the changes to roads and the skyline will amaze you. To that end, I often wonder how our early pioneers would react if they could come back for just one day to view the four lane highways – to and from the Gold Coast today – given Brisbane residents from many decades back, couldn’t see any point in buying land at the Gold Coast, as whilst they knew it had nice beaches, it was simply too far away – given there was only a single lane dirt road between the two centres originally. And even if you took that drive back then in the luxury of a new invention called the motor car, there were no seat belts, no air bags, no tubeless tyres, no CD players and so on.

When I started my working life in the National Bank some 41 years ago – I had an ashtray next to me so that if I wanted a cigarette during the day I could – and there was another ashtray on the outside of my tellers cage for the person I was serving to have a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or whatever they desired. No one in the waiting queue ever complained about the smoke – it was everyone’s right to have a cigarette. Imagine that same scenario unfolding in banks today? You’d have every do-gooder from here to Timbuktu on to you. The world in that regard has gone totally insane today whereby even people smoking in totally open areas like malls can supposedly cause others to die from smoking related diseases. Fair dinkum life can’t get any more stupid than that possibility happening – and I haven’t even smoked for over 10 years. Fifty years ago, say at a country dance, if an adult male used “the f word” in front of a female he would be taken aside and dealt with physically by other males. Today every second word emanating from many people’s mouth is “the f word” – and no one seems to care. So whilst certain things in our society escalate with gay abandon like alcohol fuelled violence and road rage – in general the society of today is so passive and politically correct it borders, as far as I’m concerned on being almost laughable. No one wants our kids to get a good kick up the arse at school or at home for disobedience, theft or vandalism. It might do the poor little feral some harm. In schools there’s no corporal punishment. In short all today’s laws favour the precious little ferals – meaning in essence the wheel has turned full circle to the point where the ones that have to watch themselves are the law abiding ones, not the ferals.

And the world has changed dramatically in racing across the three codes over the years. Jockeys like Des Lake or Mick Dittman – and another hundred or 200 like them used to be able to literally appear to lift a horse across the line from their extremely vigorous whip style. Back then there was no limit on the number of times you could hit a horse with the whip. It didn’t matter – no one gave it a second thought. Modern day jockeys are forced to be able to even count as a pre-cursor to them being licensed. They have to know how many times they’ve hit their horse in a certain section of the race. And today they can’t lift the whip above shoulder level. And today they can only use “padded whips,” which allegedly the horse can’t feel. One positive from all that is that the modern day jockey can actually count – whereas back in what they called “the good old days” many jockeys could neither count, read or write. In a bygone era, jockeys were undoubtedly some of the worst educated people in society whereas they aren’t these days. They could leave school at 12 or any age that suited back then. Imagine the uproar if a child left school at 12 today and went to work as an apprentice jockey?

Long ago in greyhound racing, they could chase live hares and rabbits and all sorts of things. Again no one cared what the greyhounds were chasing down. Most hoped they caught the rabbit or hare – even if they didn’t follow the sport – as the animals they were hunting down were a pest to society anyway, so having less rabbits and hares was particularly satisfying to our farmers.

In harness racing in a bygone era, as happened in the thoroughbred racing of yesteryear, there was no limit to the number of times a driver could hit a horse in a race. If for instance the pacer galloped away from the standing start (there were no mobile starts back in the early days), a driver could flog the horse that had missed the start by 100 metres for the entire race as a “punishment” if he liked. No one questioned his right to do that. I say “his” as women were banned from driving way back then. Imagine banning women in racing today from being trainers and drivers, or that aforesaid whip incident unfolding today? Society would be mortified.

Today harness racing drivers have to be blatantly aware of what they are doing with a whip. As I’ve written here before, I had to have the whip taken out of Justracing billboards (see photos on the www.brisbaneracing.com.au montage today), due to complaints from members of the public about the driver “being cruel to the horse”. Rather than have expensive and large billboards vandalised by do-gooders, I paid to have the whip removed.

When I look back at the harness racing whip of yesteryear – that had a golf ball sized ball on the end of the whip, I can accept, given the benefit of hindsight, that that style of whip certainly could and would have inflicted a lot of pain on the horse and I accept that today, a different style of whip and different whip rules are much fairer on the animal.

A couple of months ago, I exclusively advised that harness racing was returning to the Brisbane RNA Show for 2014 onwards – and advised in that article that whips mustn’t be allowed, or Joe Public of 2014 will be horrified, as will all the children present.

I have a 16-year-old granddaughter Simone, and she reminded me of how different the young people of today think when I took her to an Albion Park meeting only a few weeks ago. She enjoyed the racing aspect, but as we left the track she said one sentence to me that has reverberated in my head 100 times since. She simply said “I don’t like that whip stuff grandad”. I can assure you that she’s never been mollycoddled – as my wife and I had her under our roof for six years and she got raised “the old fashioned way” to the point where now she says “please” and “thanks” at a shop when being served and the shop assistant looks in amazement that they are serving some young person who actually has some manners and respect. Simone has been to race meetings across the codes since she was a little girl, yet at 16, as a young person starting to mature into an adult – and think for herself, which we have always encouraged – she came out with that statement about the whip.

Then no sooner did my Simone come out with that statement at Albion Park than Denis Smith – writing his weekly harness column in last Saturday’s The Queensland Times – came out with this in part. I can assure one and all there was no communication, by any means, between Denis Smith and myself before he wrote this:

“……………what administrators and other influential people will have to do is to apply the same principles of kindness and welfare contained in the I.G. project to the core business. To get us over the most easily jumped hurdle, the whip must go, or its use be so severely curtailed as to demonstrate that it can be used as a tool of communication, rather than an instrument for supplying pain and fear. The current arrangement of fines is a joke. The old adage about “flogging a dead horse” was never more apt. A driver or jockey has just given a demonstration of his powers as a flogger to whatever size audience Sky Channel commands at that time. Too late for a penalty then, the audience has witnessed the crime and realises that there is no compensation for the horse who takes his bruises and blood blisters home to suffer in silence.

The argument that punters won’t tolerate a no whip situation won’t hold up for too much longer, as current punters, like all people, have a habit of growing old and dying. We will have difficulty in attracting new customers as the market place is packed with people who abhor the use of the whip. I do not believe that the current product we are peddling will ever attract people who have grown up believing that the horse is a sport and pleasure animal. Racing and other horse related activities should bring pleasure to the participants whether they have two legs or four, and equally should bring pleasure to a great many who wish to be spectators.

It has often been said that trotting/harness racing folk should think outside the square. We will never be able to do that until such time as we right the glaring wrongs which exist in the core business. Then, and only then, will we present a saleable product”.

So it’s an absolute no brainer that whip use in racing is obviously a major concern in modern day society. As an industry attempting to move forward “with the times,” authorities and licensees alike need to be blatantly aware of how the young people of today perceive whip use. Many of us we older persons came through an education system whereby “six of the best” with a lawyer cane across the hand was a pre-cursor to us having no emotion about watching horses get flogged. We must accept that things are different today though and that the younger generation don’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell of ever getting “six of the best” meaning they are mortified at whip use on racehorse, trotters and pacers.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s the final montage of photos from racing at Doomben last Saturday, plus some photos of the Justracing billboard before and after the whip appeared. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s the story on Peggy Jean’s sire, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at Sydney racing going up and down in the one spot.

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