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Charlie Fellowes: why my Royal Ascot winner should have been disqualified

Charlie Fellowes gives a pat to Thanks Be after the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot
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Thanks Be gave me a moment I'll cherish forever when winning the Sandringham Handicap at Royal Ascot. It may surprise you to learn I do not believe I should have won that race, however.

British racing's whip rules are wrong – and because they are wrong I won the first Royal Ascot race of my career. Hayley Turner broke the sport's whip rules aboard Thanks Be. For that simple reason I believe our filly should have been disqualified.

Hayley received a nine-day suspension and was fined £1,600. If you could rewind the clock and tell her she could still exceed the permitted whip quota but win and be punished, I am absolutely certain she would opt for the win-and-be-punished approach. In an important race any jockey would do the same. That's the problem.

I don't think the threat of a bigger suspension would have made a difference. I don't think the threat of a bigger fine would have made a difference. The only thing that would make a difference is the knowledge that going just one strike above the seven-hit limit would lead to disqualification.

I therefore believe Thanks Be should have been disqualified at Ascot, even though I also believe she was the best filly in the race. James Doyle aboard runner-up Magnetic Charm also broke the rules and was suspended, so I think she should have been disqualified as well. However, had a disqualification rule been in place I'm sure neither filly would have needed to be disqualified because neither jockey would have broken the rules.

It's just not fair. That's why I don't go along with the argument chucking out a winner unfairly punishes the winning owner and trainer. That seems more equitable to me than punishing an owner and trainer whose rider has behaved properly.

As a young trainer coming through the ranks, I do not see racing as a thriving sport. We are a sport that has to adapt in order to stimulate interest from new people. We need all the help we can get. By maintaining the status quo we are not helping ourselves. 

Sharing the limelight: Hayley Turner and Charlie Fellowes celebrate after their Royal Ascot triumph

I don’t come from a racing background, which means many of my friends are not racing people. I know from speaking to them that the image of a horse being repeatedly struck with a whip is out of date and off-putting to those of a more sensitive disposition. 

A lot of my friends genuinely think racing is rigged and crooked. "Go on mate, tell us the truth," they often say. I also have friends who look at the use of the whip and consider it to be cruel. It's really difficult for me to make them believe otherwise. If I, as a racehorse trainer, struggle to convince my friends, I can only imagine what people think who don't have someone like me to put racing's argument across.

I am a horseman and even I was disgusted with the rides Christophe Soumillon gave Thunder Snow in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup. In both instances I felt sorry for the horse, so heaven knows what someone who isn't a horseman – and therefore doesn't know the whip is padded – would have felt?

That's a perfectly fair question to ask due to the rapidly changing beliefs among young people about our planet, the animals living on it and the effects humans have on the environment. Veganism is becoming ever more popular, pollution has never been under so much scrutiny and our treatment of animals is constantly in the spotlight. Images such as those of Soumillon on Thunder Snow will only damage the sport's popularity among those – and other – people, leaving us increasingly floundering behind the times. 

Horses are flight animals. We use a stick because it encourages them to flee quicker. Whether that’s through the motion of the jockey, the sound of the whip hitting their flanks or the sensation they feel when it hits their flanks, it is a fact the whip is used to encourage horses to run faster than they would otherwise run. But for the sake of racing's image and reputation, we have to draw the line somewhere.

I won a Windsor maiden last week. The horse beaten a nose into second was ridden by Robert Havlin, who picked up a 13-day ban for excessive use of the whip. Had my horse been edged out in that close finish, the owner-breeder would rightly have been furious, as would I. We would have been beaten by a horse whose jockey had broken the rules. Because of that, the value of my owner-breeder’s horse and the family would have been impacted.


Prescott and McCain support call to throw out winners for whip overuse


In a slight contradiction to my main argument, part of me feels it would be a shame to lose the whip altogether. However, the sight of a jockey repeatedly flogging a horse without giving the animal time to react does not look good. Moreover, if we continue to allow jockeys to flout the sport's whip rules you can guarantee the whip will be banned sooner than would otherwise be the case.

I actively tell my jockeys not to go overboard with the stick on certain horses. I also have owners who will not allow a jockey to use it on young horses. I have seen numerous horses who have had really hard races never come back.

A lot of people say it's difficult for jockeys to count under pressure. That’s rubbish. I have yet to meet a jockey who cannot count to seven, even in the heat of the moment. A trainer can encourage a horse to run at home without the use of a stick, so a jockey should be able to do the same on the racecourse.  

Sir Mark Prescott: on the same page as Charlie Fellowes when it comes to use of the whip

I would freely admit I think most trainers disagree with me. I recently spoke to William Haggas and he had a very different position to mine. However, I speak to Sir Mark Prescott regularly and we are completely on the same page.

This is something we should be taking very seriously – and I don't think we are taking it seriously enough.

Jockeys would not break the whip rules if they knew disqualification would follow if they did. They would also hit horses less than they do now – and that would do the sport no harm whatsoever.

Having happy horses has helped with our move 

I strongly believe horses need to want to race. They must enjoy their job. If they don't, they won't put 100 per cent into their races and won't achieve their full potential. For that reason, I've always tried to create an environment that allows horses to be happy and relaxed. 

I am convinced that has helped the members of our string take our recent move of yards, from our old St Gatien base to the Bedford House Stables from which Luca Cumani trained so many superstars.

Fortunately, the horses moved only half a mile. They left St Gatien for their normal exercise routine and completed their morning out by walking into Bedford House. Not a single horsebox was used. It was seamless. That was on Monday, May 13. We then had our first three runners from the new yard on Thursday, May 16. Two of them won.

We moved yards when the horses were healthy. Since then they have remained healthy, which I'm sure is something to do with the freshness and cleanliness of Bedford House. There are four big barns that Luca designed beautifully. The air flow is fantastic and the environment feels fresh, no matter how hot the weather. 

Bedford House stables: Charlie Fellowes has made a seamless transition to the former yard of Luca Cumani

Our horses are the opposite of stressed. They are completely chilled out. That comes from having a group of lads who buy into my philosophy. They carry sticks at home but if I see a horse being smacked, nine times out of ten I'll make it clear I'm not happy.

I always believe the relaxed nature of our horses helps them when they travel, which is borne out by the fact a lot of our biggest moments have come in Australia, America and Dubai. 

I'm pleased to say we are also doing very well on home soil. We've been operating at a 22 per cent strike-rate since switching to Bedford House, which suggests the horses approve of their new home.

It is not yet my new home. I have enough on my plate right now, so we're staying at St Gatien for the moment. The idea of moving house on top of everything else would fry my head. 

Relocating to such a historic and stunning yard has brought with it extra pressure. It was such a big move and I'm desperate to justify it. Fortunately, things are going nicely to script.  I have to pinch myself pretty much every day. Long may that continue.


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The only thing that would make a difference is the knowledge that going just one strike above the seven-hit limit would lead to disqualification
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