The Country Mile Race Series, which kicks off at Colac on Sunday, will have a lot more interest than usual as Racing Victoria will be trialling their limited use of the whip directive throughout the series under which jockeys can use the whip no more than five times throughout the entirety of the race.
This differs markedly from the existing rule which limits the use the whip to five times prior to the 100-metre mark with unlimited use from the 100m mark to the finish where the outcome of the race is often decided.
This trail is the latest sequel in Racing Victoria’s strong stance in favour of whip reform.
While honourable in its sentiment, it is fair to say that Racing Victoria’s persistence in wanting to go it alone and race ahead of the rest of the country with this matter because of what they seem to perceive as being a stalled, or too slow, reform process on the national level, has not particularly endeared itself to a large number of stakeholders and participants.
Racing Victoria have put forward the argument in support of their decision to rein in the whip that the trial conditions will assist in gathering data about racing and wagering outcomes, fan engagement and sentiment, level of participant support, adaptation to the conditions by riders, conduct and safety of the race, and the consistency of form lines.
It also claims that the information gained, ‘will be invaluable in informing the review of potential changes to rules governing the use of the whip that is currently being conducted by Racing Australia.’
It is not only the five-strike rule that is in play during the series though. Any breach of the rule will have serious consequences for the jockey and, in certain circumstances, even for the horse and its connections.
As per Racing Victoria’s website, ‘an appropriate penalty framework’ will apply. As stated by Racing Victoria, those possible consequences include:
In the event a rider breaches the permitted five uses of the whip in a heat … the rider will be fined and/or suspended … and will not be able to ride in the final of the Country Mile Race Series if the breach occurs in a heat and they use the whip on 8 or more occasions) and … in the event a rider uses their whip on eight or more occasions in a heat … the horse subjected to that breach will be ineligible to compete in any further heats or the final of the Country Mile Race Series.
In the event a rider breaches the permitted five uses of the whip in the final … the rider will be fined and/or suspended and no action will be taken against the horse subjected to that breach.
If a rider is fined a percentage of their prizemoney, this amount will be paid to the Jockey Welfare Program.
The Stewards shall also retain a discretion, if a whip is used in contravention of the race conditions, to … not penalise a rider … and/or … not prevent the rider and/or horse from continued participation in the Country Mile Series, if that excessive whip use was necessary to ensure the safety of horses and/or riders in the race.
Racing Victoria lists the whip penalty framework for the Country Mile Race Series as follows:
For six and seven strikes (1 and 2 over the limit) – 50% of the jockey’s prizemoney.
For eight strikes (3 over the limit) – eight meeting plus 50% of the jockey’s prizemoney.
For nine strikes (4 over the limit) – nine meetings and 75% of the jockey’s prizemoney.
For ten strikes (5 over the limit) – ten meetings and 75% of the jockey’s prizemoney.
For over ten strikes (six or more over the limit) – suspension at steward’s discretion and 100% of the jockey’s prizemoney.
Greg Carpenter, Racing Victoria’s General Manger for Racing had this to say on the whip trial.
“We acknowledge this initiative has mixed support from some industry stakeholder groups,” said Carpenter. “However, we thank them for their input to the process to this point and we can only reiterate that we see little downside to running this trial and using the learnings to better inform the discussion on this critical issue.”
*The Country Mile Race Series comprises five heats … at Colac, Swan Hill, Ballarat, Pakenham and Wangaratta … with the final set to take place at the Valley on March 13.