Mike Smith To CHRB: New Riding Crop Rule Putting Jockeys, Horses At Greater Risk

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, co-chair of the Jockeys’ Guild, has written a letter to California Horse Racing Board members on behalf of the Guild and California riders criticizing a restrictive riding crop rule that went into effect on Oct. 1 over concerns for the safety of horses and riders and the integrity of the sport.

The rule, CHRB 1688, restricts both the manner and frequency with which jockeys may use the riding crop. Under CHRB 1688:

  • The crop must be used in an underhanded position with the crop always at or below the shoulder level of the jockey.
  • A maximum of six strikes with hands off the reins is permitted during a race; not more than twice in succession.
  • There is not a limit on the number of times a jockey may strike a horse on the shoulder while both hands are on the reins, and “flagging” a horse is permitted.

Smith said the rule “to restrict the use of the riding crop to the underhand position … is completely against the technique that every jockey has been taught on the proper use of the riding crop. It is contrary to our instincts and techniques, which in turn is impacting our balance and reaction time. We strongly believe that regulation is extremely hazardous and has added an even greater risk and uncertainty to our profession.”

He also voiced the concerns of riders for racing integrity, saying, “In multiple races over the weekend, jockeys were limited in the encouragement they were able to give the horses, which in turn impacted the outcome of the race and jockeys were unable to maximize placing of the horses.”

Following is the full text of the Oct. 8 letter from Smith to members of the CHRB, a copy of which was obtained by the Paulick Report:

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Dear Members of the California Horse Racing Board

Please accept this letter on behalf of the Jockeys’ Guild and all of the jockeys in California. I am writing to you, as well as copying Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Bill Dodd, and Asm. Adam Gray, in yet another effort to express the concerns of the California jockeys regarding CHRB 1688 Use of the Riding Crop, which went into effect on October 1, 2020.

Since the consideration to the changes to the Use of the Riding Crop regulations were introduced, we have voiced various reasons for opposition, including our concerns about safety and the integrity of the sport. In the weeks leading up to the implementation, there were several meetings with the riders at Santa Anita, Golden Gate, and Los Alamitos, including both the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse jockeys, in which we had discussions on how to move forward.

After the jockeys have attempted to comply with CHRB 1688 this weekend, our concerns have been reiterated and we strongly believe that more than one of us will suffer a serious injury, or even possibly death, from your new rule 1688, which has never been used in the United States, or anywhere else for that matter. In light of the fact that one of our fellow jockeys, Vinnie Bednar, was recently paralyzed in a racing accident at Los Alamitos, the risks are fresh in our minds. And now, you have implemented regulations, that many people, including jockeys, owners, and trainers, believe have created even more safety hazards. The reality is we are very alarmed about the lack of concern for our safety and well-being. Furthermore, not only do we have a concern for our own welfare, but also have grave concerns about the risks being created for the horses.

The CHRB stated the intent is to improve the safety and welfare of the horses with the restrictions on the use of the riding crop. However, as Senator Dodd stated regarding his recently passed racing reform legislation in California, “the goal is to improve the safety of HORSES AND JOCKEYS.”

Unfortunately, historically jockeys have not had a voice and have been considered a lower aspect of racing, both socioeconomically and politically, often times due to race and lack of education. With regards to the Use of the Riding Crop in California it seems this has continued to be the case. We have attempted to participate in the rule making process and provide input based on our professional knowledge and experience. However, for whatever reason, our concerns were not given credence. Even though, the reality is, we are the people who are risking our lives, balancing on the balls of our feet, in a very narrow stirrup, going 35-50 miles per hour on a 1,200 pound horse, surrounded by other jockeys who are doing the same thing.

To restrict the use of the riding crop to the underhand position, as you have currently imposed, is completely against the technique that every jockey has been taught on the proper use of the riding crop. It is contrary to our instincts and techniques, which in turn is impacting our balance and reaction time. We strongly believe that regulation is extremely hazardous and has added an even greater risk and uncertainty to our profession.

Furthermore, to change to specifications of the actual crops we are using, adds to the difficulty of the regulation that is being imposed. The jockeys feel that the use current cushioned riding crop is safer for the equine athlete and does not compromise the horse’s welfare. We were actively involved in the refinements and the adoption of the current riding crop to reduce the impact to the equine athlete. When the current cushioned riding crop was introduced, it was strongly encouraged that the horses be subject to inspection by a veterinarian, either regulatory or official, looking for cuts, welts, or bruises on the skin, with any adverse finding being reported to the Stewards. Over the past ten years, when the approved cushioned riding crops were used in the appropriate manner, the welts and cuts have almost been completely eliminated. With that being said, we are supportive of any improvements that can be made to the existing riding crop to create an even more humane crop.

However, any rule making on the composition of the crop must be done in a thoughtful manner after research and input and considerations from the jockeys.

In addition to the increased dangers, there has also been a serious impact on the integrity and outcome of the races. In multiple races over the weekend, jockeys were limited in the encouragement they were able to give the horses, which in turn impacted the outcome of the race and jockeys were unable to maximize placing of the horses. The owners, along with the betting public, both of whom are the driving force behind our sport, were not afforded every possible opportunity maximize return on their investment.

Given the penalties and perils you have created, you are imposing great pressures on the jockeys, to the extent that some are considering leaving California to ride in jurisdictions which are still allowing for reasonable and responsible use of the riding crop. My home, along with several other jockeys, many of whom are Latino, is in California. We do not want to be forced to leave. However, the fear of grave injury and the unreasonable penalties are making many of us reconsider continuing to ride in California.

As the Guild and the jockeys have continued to say the ultimate goal is to establish a standard that is in the best interest of the welfare of the horse, as well as the industry as a whole, including those whose lives are at stake. However, we believe that the new CHRB rule, as adopted, is  actually unsafe and will be detrimental to our industry. As such, we are pleading and implore you to reconsider the changes that have been rushed through without thorough consideration of the dangerous implications you have created for us, as well as the horses.

Sincerely,

Mike E. Smith

Co-Chair, Jockeys’ Guild

The post Mike Smith To CHRB: New Riding Crop Rule Putting Jockeys, Horses At Greater Risk appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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