California Horse Racing Board Votes To Limit Whip Use, Mandate New Foam Crops

After considerable debate, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) voted to approve language restricting the type and use of whips available to jockeys in the state in a lengthy meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The CHRB had two items related to the whip to consider at its Thursday meeting: one to modify the size, shape and other specifications of whips that are permitted in races, and one to modify appropriate use of those whips. The first rule, while not specifically naming any one product, essentially allows riders to use only the 360 GT whip engineered by retired rider Ramon Dominguez.

See our feature article from 2019 about the 360 GT whip.

The 360 GT features a round, cylindrical end made of a dense foam material designed to absorb shock and essentially bounce back from the horse, eliminating sting. Independent testing conducted by Chesapeake Testing in May did show a measurable impact force reduction as compared to standard whips of the same length and weight.

Commissioners expressed concern about mandating the use of one company’s product for all riders, although Dominguez assured the group he had finessed the design based on feedback from riders to accommodate different riding styles and body proportions. That measure passed unanimously.

The second item addressed by the CHRB was a set of limits to the appropriate use of the whip. The language has been in the works in some form for the past two years and according to CHRB executive director Scott Chaney, this specific iteration of the rule was finalized by staff nearly a year ago. The rule language was passed by the CHRB and was put out for a 45-day public comment period already; Thursday’s consideration of the language was its second appearance before the board, which is required for final approval.

The rule language before the CHRB would restrict appropriate whip use to the horse’s shoulder and hindquarters only (not the more sensitive flank just behind the girth), and no more than twice in succession without waiting for a response, and no more than six times total. Jockeys will be penalized for using the whip on a horse that is clearly out of the race or is not responding. Whip use is not permitted in training except for safety or correction.

Representatives from The Jockeys Guild asked the CHRB to hold off on a decision regarding either measure, stating they were close to reaching an agreement with the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition on a new “national rule.” Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith suggested he could see such a rule finalized in as little as four to six weeks. Guild representatives also pointed to a model rule approved by a Mid-Atlantic racing group that would allow only underhanded whip use for encouragement up to the quarter pole, and place a limit on the number of total strikes.

But even if the Guild and the Coalition do strike such an agreement, it will not be the same as a “national rule,” as Chaney pointed out. The Coalition is primarily (though not totally) a group of racetrack ownership groups who can agree to push for certain model rules in their jurisdictions, but it does not have the ability to make them part of state rules or regulations without going through the usual commission processes.

Initially, commissioners Dennis Alfieri and Alex Solis suggested tabling a vote on the rule language until the next meeting, hoping that by then a Guild-approved rule may be ready.

CHRB commissioner Dr. Greg Ferraro disagreed.

“I don’t believe you’re close to a national rule,” said Ferraro. “I would like to see a national rule, but I don’t believe it’s going to happen soon. I think it’s going to be years. This board has a mandate from the governor to make reforms in racing that contribute to the welfare of the horse. We’ve been talking about this crop for two years. I think it’s time to stop procrastinating and pass a rule. We have a good rule. We’ve worked hard on it.

“We’re never going to please the jocks. They don’t want to do anything but keep the status quo. I appreciate their argument, but it’s not going to fly in the face of the public’s demand that we quit hitting these horses.”

Smith and jockey Aaron Gryder disagreed, expressing concern for riders’ safety if use of the whip were restricted and also expressing frustration that whip rules have become considerably variable from state to state.

Many jockeys say the industry has failed to educate the public on why whips are important and whether or not they contribute negatively to horses’ welfare.

“I’m very proud of the relationship I have with horses,” said Gryder. “It’s a partnership, with complete respect for each other. I don’t just ride the horses, I care for their safety and their wellbeing. I care about them. And chairman, I respectfully disagree with your comment that jockeys want to leave everything status quo. As jockeys we all support continuing to create and/or modify to ensure we’re doing what we can for the safety of the horse and the riders.”

A motion to table the rule did not pass, which required the CHRB to then vote on the language as written. After some legal research, CHRB staff determined that failing to pass the rule language would kill the rule altogether, requiring everyone to go back to the beginning of the rule-making process for whip reform. Ultimately, the language passed four to two, with Solis and Alfieri voting against and Ferraro, Oscar Gonzales, Damascus Castellanos, and Wendy Mitchell voting for it.

Now, the rule will be reviewed by California’s Office of Administrative Law. Staff estimated that it could go into effect as early as Oct. 1. It is still possible that if the Guild and the Coalition come up with a new model rule in the next several weeks, the CHRB could withdraw the rule passed Thursday and work to adopt the Guild’s rule instead.

The post California Horse Racing Board Votes To Limit Whip Use, Mandate New Foam Crops appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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