‘We’re First’: California Horse Racing On Track To Have ‘Most Restrictive Whip Rule In North America’

The California Horse Racing Board on Thursday adopted North America’s most restrictive rules concerning use of the riding crop during racing and training, limiting jockeys to no more than six strikes during a race and no more than two in succession without giving their mount a chance to respond. Currently, jockeys riding in California can strike the horse an unlimited number of times in a race but only three times in succession before giving the horse a chance to respond.

The rule, passed unanimously during former racetrack veterinarian and academician Dr. Gregory Ferraro’s second CHRB meeting as chairman, is subject to a 45-day public comment period, after which the board may adopt the rule as written or amend it. Thursday’s meeting was held at Los Alamitos race course in Cypress, Calif.

The rule that passed was the third version of a bill the board has considered in recent months, this one submitted just prior to Thursday’s meeting. Read the adopted rule here.

Terry Meyocks, president and CEO of the Jockeys’ Guild, had submitted his organization’s own proposal prior to the meeting that was far less restrictive. Meyocks and other Guild officials, along with California-based jockey Aaron Gryder, addressed the board prior to the vote with their concerns.

“It’s not a weapon,” said Gryder. “It’s a tool to help guide, to communicate. Horses aren’t being abused. They aren’t coming back being hurt from the whips.”

Retired Hall of Fame jockey Alex Solis, a CHRB commissioner, told Gryder jockeys in Australia have adapted as rules there changed.  “They can change their style,” Solis said of California’s jockey colony.

Woodbine racetrack in Ontario, Canada, began a test run of riding crop limitations in October in which jockeys were required to only use the crop in an underhand positions and are not allowed to strike the horse with the crop in the cocked position.

Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, told the Paulick Report the track and its regulator generally are pleased with the result of the experiment and he anticipates it will continue when racing resumes there next year.  “The feedback from our jockey colony is mixed,” he said. “A core group of them do not like the new rule; however, most are respectful and acknowledge that racing is in need of change as the ‘whip’ issue is adding to the challenges racing currently faces and the potential impact on the ability to attract a younger generation of fans.”

Meyocks said the Woodbine jockeys he’s talked to do not like the rule now in place there. “They lost their timing, their cadence,” Meyocks said. “They think it’s dangerous.” Meyocks said jockeys told him handle declined by as much as 20% when the Woodbine experiment began.

“We have not experienced an impact on wagering,” Lawson told the Paulick Report,  “and while there has been some ‘noise’ from our wagering customers around inconsistent application by jockeys, the general attitude is that all entries are participating on a level playing field and as a result it works fine vis a vis wagering.”

“Use of the crop is a worldwide problem, not just a California problem,” said Darrel McHargue, an Eclipse Award-winning former jockey and currently chief steward for the CHRB.

“We just passed the most restrictive whip rule in North America, maybe the world,” Ferraro said after the vote, expressing a desire for racing across North America to adopt a uniform rule. “We got to a point where we had to move. Someone has to be first. We’re first.”

At the January 2020 meeting, the CHRB will take up the issue of what types of riding crops will be permitted.

In other news, the CHRB:

–Reported that it would not meet its December deadline to issue a report on the Santa Anita fatalities that drew so much scrutiny early this year. Jan. 15, 2020, is the new target date for the report’s completion, according to CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker. Officials said the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s criminal investigation on the matter has hindered the CHRB’s analytical review. The Los Angeles County DA’s investigation was said to be “wrapping up.”

–Approved a measure requiring the transfer of pertinent medical records from a horse’s attending veterinarian to any new attending veterinarian if the horse is claimed.

–Adopted a rule prohibiting the administration of bisphosphonates to any horse within a CHRB enclosure

–Reported a decline in year-to-date fatalities at licensed California racing and training facilities and a 50% reduction in deaths in the last 10 years. Equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur said the 2018-19 fiscal year showed the second lowest number of deaths since 1990, bettered only by 2017-18. It was, however,  pointed out during the public comment period that the number of starters is down compared to previous years.

–With California set to ban race-day Lasix for 2-year-olds in 2020, Arthur reported the findings of a study by Dr. Warwick Bayly of Washington State University given during last week’s annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Bayly’s study indicated that a low dose of Lasix given 24 hours before a race showed a reduction in the endoscopic scores of bleeders in horses under moderate water restrictions.

“Horses run faster on Lasix,” Arthur said, attributing weight loss (through urination) as a major factor in the drug’s performance-enhancing effect. Arthur said a previous study showed horses given Lasix on race-day had as much as a five-length advantage in six-furlong races.

“Lasix is a performance enhancer,” Arthur told the board, adding that “80% of horses bleed without Lasix and 60% of horses bleed with Lasix.”

Ferraro, who asked Arthur to repeat those statements, said it was the board’s responsibility to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from the sport.

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