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Time to revisit whip rules?

Horse Racing Radar
Rich Bieglmeier
Rich Bieglmeier is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Sunday, July 18, 2021

Maybe it is time to revisit whip rules before it is too late.

Fortunately, a deadly tragedy was avoided in the Haskell, Live on NBC.

"Yes, the lack of a crop came into play. I was trying to correct him as much as I could." 1

It was like when a UFC fighter or football player breaks a leg, and you see it all disfigured. You can't help but grimace and turn away. That's how MIDNIGHT BOURBON falling to his knees and throwing jockey Paco Lopez to the ground felt. Lopez took a nasty tumble and then it looked like FOLLOWING SEA got a piece of the jockey too. 

HOT ROD CHARLIE was on his way to a hard-fought win and berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but jockey Flavien Prat's horse crossed paths with MIDNIGHT BOURBON, the two clipped heels causing the gasp-inducing fall.

Afterwards, Lopez said he was OK. MIDNIGHT BOURBON kicked the jockey in his knee and Lopez said, "I felt pain in my tendon there, and I couldn't move my leg for about ten minutes, but I am fine now." MIDNIGHT BOURBON is reportedly OK as well.

Along with "trying to correct him as much as I could," jockey Prat added, ""If I could have hit him just one time left-handed, we would have been just fine, but it is what it is." 1

Whip rules were a hot topic when Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith joined The Player's Edge Podcast. In our Q and A with one of the all-time greats, this is what he had to say about riding crops.

"Whether you are on an equestrian horse or trotting or whatever it may be, it goes hand in hand. It's a tool that needs to be there for a lot of reasons, especially safety being the most important. We keep telling people they are bred to run; they love to run. Well they love to run when they want to. My dog likes to pay attention to me and stand by my side when it wants to, but when it sees a squirrel and decides to take off, If I don't have a leash on it, he's gone."

Smith brought up New Jersey, home of Monmouth Park, specifically:

"Before you called, we were going over the [New] Jersey rule where they are not going to let them use it [riding crop] period. You can only use it underhanded for a safety reason only. You can't use it for encouragement or anything else.

The problem with the safety reason only is they think they are giving you a chance to use it if there is a dangerous situation. Well, I know the dangerous situation is about to come up two strides, three strides maybe even four before it happens.

You correct a horse before it does it. You can feel it, its body language will tell you by the way it does its ears. For you to visualize it, I might do something, and you didn't even see anything happen because nothing happened. I prevented it from happening before it happened. The way it is written now, though, it literally has to happen before you can prevent it. Well, that doesn't make any sense. How can you prevent something that's already happened?"

This is 2021, we aren't in the dark ages. News is delivered instantly now. We know what works and we know what doesn't work. Smith pointed to Tampa Bay Downs as the model:

"Right now in racing, Tampa Bay has the rule we've been trying to apply all along. You want to put a number of strikes? That's fine. We are fine with a number if you can use it properly. Let's us carry and use it underhanded as necessary; to reach back and even touch one to keep them focused or whatever it may be, but if you turn it up, then you have that certain number.

That's what Tampa is doing. I think it just working brilliantly over there. I watch the races there, it looks good, people feel comfortable with it, they feel safe, but for some reason, California being one of them, it doesn't seem like they want to listen to the people who are on the back and risking their lives."

Thankfully, Paco Lopez and MIDNIGHT BOURBON avoided major injuries. Horse racing cannot afford a tragedy on its grandest stages due to the ignorance of bureaucrats and politicians, most of whom have never ridden a racehorse in competition. 

Horse racing may have its problems, but whips aren't one of them. There is a balance i.e., the Tampa model. However, the lack of being able to "correct" a horse before a tragedy could literally kill someone and do the sport of kings more damage than a riding crop ever could, live on NBC. 

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