Compassion? Or political correctness gone mad?

Last weekend’s C F Orr Stakes was a classic race, won by a classic horse, and a classic horseman. But a bit of the gloss was taken away from the spectacle by the fact that Craig Williams, the winning jockey, copped a $3,000 fine for excessive use of the whip. When you watch the video of the race, two things become crystal clear to anyone who is a horseman. One – Williams’ use of the whip wasn’t “excessive”. Two – Hartnell would probably not have won the race without the ride.

The current whip rule states that the jockey cannot strike the horse with the whip on any more than five occasions before the 100 metre mark. Like any arbitrary rule, it’s nonsense, and here’s why. If it is OK to strike a horse only five times before the 100 metres, why is it then OK to strike the horse as many times as you like in the last 100 metres

Let’s look at some facts. This is a major race, and the job of every jockey, and trainer too, is to win major races with the top horses in their stables. To expect any rider to count whip strikes in the last 200 metres – and failing to do that was William’s transgression – of the race is a nonsense. The second fact is that Hartnell is a pretty big gelding, and a very experienced racehorse. He’s been around for a while, and, like all of them, he’s got a pretty good idea of what this racing caper is about. He’s also got a mind of his own, and like a lot of older geldings, he needs a reminder of just who is in charge, from time to time. Look at another fact. Today’s whips are a far cry from the weapons that Mick Dittman used to wield. Today’s whips are well padded, and they don’t leave welts on the horses, let alone break the skin. The horse certainly knows that he’s being given a reminder about the job in hand, but to assume cruelty is involved shows a complete ignorance of racing and racehorses. Horses that are truly hurt by the whip don’t stretch out; they do the opposite and run slower. Horses that are truly hurt by the whip will pig root.

The problem is that the rulemakers listen to the politically correct brigade, and the majority of the politically correct brigade have horse knowledge that is limited to the facts that one end bites and the other doesn’t. They have little or no knowledge about riding or riders, and they don’t understand that the whip, for any rider, in any discipline is as much of a safety tool as it is a performance tool. In a race field, a rider uses the whip to guide the horse as much as to encourage it. They don’t even see, or understand, what is involved in a jockey’s whip technique. And they don’t ever bother to try to find out. Emotion, after all, will win over logic in anything where animals are concerned.

So, what’s the solution? There needs to be one, because jockeys nowadays are getting a raw deal. Sure, Craig Williams can handle a $3,000 fine from his winning percentage, but why should he have to do that? Was he the only jockey who broke the five strikes law at Caulfield last Saturday? I really don’t think so. The issue is simply that there is no point in a law that can’t, or won’t, be enforced, or in a law that can be enforced whimsically.

The stewards are supposed to be horseman, but decisions like this really make me wonder about the validity of that assumption. Was Hartnell distressed after the race? Answer – no. Did the trainer or owners take issue with Williams’ whip use? Answer – again no. Did the crowd stand there appalled and aghast at Williams’ cruelty to his mount? Answer – no again. There’s an old saying that there is no point in a law that can’t be enforced. There’s even less point in having a law that can’t be enforced sensibly.

Whether the bleeding hearts accept it or not, the judgement that a jockey has used the whip excessively has to be just that – a judgement. An arbitrary rule makes for arbitrary decisions, and arbitrary decisions simply get everyone offside, to one extent or another.

So, the suggestion to the stewards and the rulemakers is a simple one – grow a set, and stop listening to people who have no knowledge of the industry. Stop setting arbitrary laws to appease the ignorant, and have the courage to make those judgements on excessive whip rules that you should be making.

I have sympathy for Craig Williams in this case, and it’s not about the money. It’s about the principle. If the fine stands, then the Godolphin sheikh should pay it. He wouldn’t be banking the winner’s cheque without that winning ride!

By Rob Young

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