It is an old chestnut … but it keeps getting roasted.
The race won by Real Sensation at Flemington on Sunday perhaps provided a one stop shop in showcasing what is wrong with the current whip rule.
Jockey Billy Egan got the $13 chance home by the narrowest of margins but, in doing so, Egan was adjudged by stewards to have been in breach of the whip rule.
The official stewards’ report reads: ‘Real Sensation Held up for clear running from the 500m until near the 200m. Rider Billy Egan pleaded guilty to a charge under the provisions of AR132(7)(a)(ii) for using his whip 7 times prior to the 100m which is two more than permitted (16 in totality). Billy Egan’s licence to ride in races was suspended for a period to commence midnight 1 May 2021 to expire at the conclusion of the day meeting on 13 May 2021, a total of 13 race meetings (1 metropolitan and 12 provincial.) Billy Egan was also fined $2000. In assessing penalty, Stewards took into account his guilty plea, record, totality of whip strikes AND THE FACT HE WON THE RACE.’
What does AND THE FACT HE WON THE RACE mean exactly and what consideration was undertaken in that respect?
I’m sure the connections of the narrowly beaten second placed runner Rathlin, for starters, would love to know the answer to that!
As the old argument goes, just how much a whip strike improves a horse’s performance cannot be determined so the chance of a whip rule protest succeeding has almost been totally annihilated and, with it, the chance of relegating a horse and rider who have breached the whip rule has all but disappeared … meaning that someone who breaks the rule can still win a race whereas a close-up runner-up, whose rider stayed within the rules has to settle for the minor placing.
That’s the first part of the Real Sensation result that can be argued as showing what is wrong with the whip rule.
The second part stems directed from the first example.
If there is not ever going to be any threat to the final race result, however riders use their whips, the imposition of fines or suspensions will not provide the level of deterrent required to ensure that the whip rule, and the consequences of any breach, is properly respected.
Billy Egan, for example …. and this position is certainly not confined to him alone … has a poor record with breaches of the whip rule which cost him a heavy loading on his penalty this time around. He was handed a thirteen-meeting suspension and a $2000 fine.
It has been reported that Egan was suspended six times last season for overuse of the whip, which suggests, given Sunday’s outcome, that any supposed deterrent currently in place hardly lives up to its objective.
Admittedly, it is not an easy problem to solve if any sort of whip rule restriction is to remain in place. Even before the new whip rule was brought in though, stewards have always had the authority to charge and punish any rider for overuse of the whip and perhaps a return to those days with no official whip restriction will take the sting out of a lot of arguments … but, of course that is very unlikely to occur. In fact, it is a million to one chance.
It is certain that no jockey ever goes out with the specific intention of making more use of the whip than is regulated and that any rider certainly can get caught up in individual race circumstances as, arguably was the case with Eagan on Sunday when he had to rally Real Sensation after being held up from the 500m to the 200m. Under less controversial circumstances it would be considered a great ride.
In the past twelve months Racing Victoria has pushed hard for a change to the whip rules … which would need a national consensus to gain traction but, contrary to the viewpoint of many participants, Racing Victoria wants the rule to be tightened up further.
At the same time Racing Australia has been working on the whip issue and they are due to issue a report on their findings with regard to any recommended changes.
It might be an old story … but it just wont’s go away.
That is, until a reasonable compromise taking into account input from all sectors but, most importantly from the jockeys, who, let us not forget, risk their lives every time they get onto a horse, is finalised so that all of these old, frustrating arguments can be locked away forever.