South Africa trials whip-free races as public pressure mounts
A ground-breaking trial of races without whips in South Africa that promises to send ripples around the sport worldwide has been described by the country’s racing authority as “a statement that needed to be made” due to mounting public pressure over their use.
Leading South African trainer Mike de Kock also spoke out in favour of a reduction in the use of the whip following the first in the series of races, which the BHA said on Wednesday it was monitoring.
That contest, a seven-furlong maiden at Turffontein, was run on Saturday and won by the De Kock-trained Hawwaam, owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum.
It came on the same day as the whip debate was reignited following widespread criticism of Christophe Soumillon’s use of the whip on Thunder Snow at the Breeders’ Cup and three days before six jockeys in the Melbourne Cup were sanctioned for whip offences, including the first three home.
Arnold Hyde, acting chief executive of South Africa’s National Horseracing Authority, said: “Saturday’s race was a statement that needed to be made because our industry is under pressure.
"We need to attract a new audience – and there is a perception that [whip use] is an area of racing that may be seen in a negative light by people outside the industry. Therefore we wanted to press home the need for the stakeholders to seriously consider the road that we have to adopt regarding the future of crop use.
"There will be another such race in Central Province in the next couple of months. A date has to be decided and we also need to consider the restrictions relating to these cropless races. Are we going to have an identical sort of race? Are we going to allow jockeys to carry a crop but not use it? And so on."
De Kock, who has had more than 100 Group 1 and Grade 1 winners, said: "This was a good initiative and we got some good mileage out of it. In any case the whip rule needs to be looked at.
"They [jockeys] are better off without sticks – more of them get beaten with them than they would without them."
Hawwaam won by a length, with runner-up Reach For The Line nine lengths clear of the third. De Kock said: "This horse had never had a stick at home and there was no point in him having a stick here.
"When he shifted in, Randall [Simons, multiple Grade 1-winning jockey] would have hit him, then the horse would have shifted out so Randall would have changed his stick and hit him again."
The Turffontein race, and the lessons to be learned from it, will now be discussed at next month’s meeting of the NHA’s Harmonisation of the Racing Rules Committee. It has already caused interest in Australia where some of the stipendiary stewards were reportedly sufficiently impressed to contact Hyde and congratulate him.
The whips used in South Africa are of the same air-cushioned style used in Britain and Ireland, designed to create a sound rather than inflict any pain, but their use has caused growing controversy in recent years.
In a recent television interview, South Africa's current champion trainer Justin Snaith said: "The stick work in racing here has gone out of control, it is becoming an issue and I think we need to get on top of it.
"I am making sure that it doesn’t cause too much hassle with my young horses and my jockeys are given strict instructions about it."
While races run without the whip are fairly commonplace in Britain and Ireland, they are generally restricted to apprentice, conditional or amateur riders.
A spokesman for the BHA said on Wednesday: "As part of the international racing community the BHA always monitors regulatory developments in other jurisdictions with interest."
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