Riding Crop Rule Amendments Postponed

Horse Racing Radar
Frisco Bash
Frisco Bash is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Thursday, March 25, 2021

California Racing Officials back off — for now. They elect to postpone all proposals and discussions on the addition of harsher penalties for riding-crop misuse.

Earlier this week, news broke out that the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) wanted to amend the current policy, CHRB 1688, which would add tougher penalties for rule breaking.

It's only been five months since they passed one of the most strict and controversial policies in recent Horse Racing history. Why did the topic resurface?

Basically, the CHRB were unhappy with the way penalties were being dished out, and unsatisfied with the discretionary judgement by stewards. Perhaps they felt the punishments were too light.

With the goal of "enhancing the rules", they figured to amend the current CHRB 1688 rule to include a few new blessings: in a graded stakes race, if the jockey whips the horse in a manner or quantity other than the way the CHRB deems necessary, half of his pay will be confiscated. This rule is applicable only if he finishes first, second, or third in the graded race, which will initiate the stewards to deliver the fine. Moreover, the CHRB wanted to raise the minimum fine from $500 to $1000, while keeping the three-day suspension as it is.

To get a hint of the prevailing attidues amongst jockeys regarding this subject, the reader is encouraged to check our article featuring Tyler Conner and Kyle Frey.

The current riding crop rule, CHRB 1688, had been opposed from the start by the Jockey's Guild, which Hall of Fame riders Mike Smith and John Velazquez are both co-chairman.

Mike Smith has been vocal on California's stance on the riding crop issues. He's gone on to say the new rules are crazy, and that there will be a breaking point at some time. 

He was shocked to learn Robby Albarado was penalized by Santa Anita Racing after winning the Beholder Mile aboard SWISS SKYDIVER. Robby Alborado was given a three-day suspension for his use of an overhand strike. Mike Smith reasoned that SWISS SKYDIVER had put her ears straight forward and in such cases you don't know what the horse is going to do, and so he was just getting her attention. But the ruling and supsension stood.

Nevertheless, the jockeys have done their best to race with the regulations. We've seen no drastic boycotting or protesting. They take the new policy with patience and class, which is why it's totally out of the blue for a new proposal to be considered. 

Guild president Terry Meyocks volunteered the speculation that it's the Breeder's Cup pushing for "enhanced" penalties in California. And with the higher purses offered on Breeder's Cup cards, the penalties could range from $100K to $200K for the winning jockey.

What do Breeder's Cup officials have to say about it? 

Well, they basically told that the new rules fit their goals. Read the exact statement here.

It's quite possible the Breeder's Cup is behind these new proposals, pushing them forward precisely at this time of year.

Afterall, the Breeder's Cup will be run at Del Mar on November 4th and 5th. The spotlight will be on California Racing. And in their quest for attracting more fans, maybe they are paranoid of offending viewers more than ever. The problem is understandable, but is their solution rational? Should they strengthen the threat imposed upon jockeys?

It's no secret the Breeder's Cup caters to the would-be fans. They make a big effort to glamorize the sport in the few hours of National TV coverage it gets on Breeder's Cup day. We've seen celebrities hired to perform on stage, or make the "riders up" call, or even advertise their picks despite never having strained their mind on a handicapping angle.

The Breeder's Cup has appealed to aesthetics, integrating fashion into the program, and placing heavy emphasis on who is wearing what versus who is racing against who. There are numerous storylines that are foregone for the sake of trivial razzmatazz. Therefore, it makes perfect sense why the CHRB would want to appease the critics and their demands.

But consider just who they're attracting. Many of such people would probably see a horse whipped just once, and immediately be up in arms, declaring the destruction of its species. Some will be short-term fans and totally forget about the sport by the end of the day. Some will never place a bet because they feel it's beneath their dignity to do so. And yet, their interests are prioritized over the actual racetrack goers and bettors, who pay attendance fees, buy the programs, wager, and put money into the industry. Is it possible the industry is targeting the wrong fans, and patterning the sport to fit people who wouldn't bat an eye if racing were shut down tomorrow?

Instead of trying to make racing more "acceptable" to the public, why not make it more exciting? There's plenty of areas to work on, such as increasing the number of fields, boosting racetrack attendance, building storylines around champion horses whose names stick around from year to year. Consider that it's nearly impossible to imagine two Triple Crown winners facing each other, given the rate at which our champions are retiring nowadays. Why not make it desirable to have horses remain in training at age four, five, and up? Why not restore the significance of our classic distance races? There is much to be done to attract fans and keep them for the long haul which doesn't require perverting the game with ridiculous rules — particularly rules suggested by people who possibly don't even watch horse racing enough. But unfortunately, our racing bureaucrats are fixed upon making racing merely more acceptable to the would-be fans. Whether most of these would-be fans would accept anything short of permanent shutdown is beside the point.

Well, at least they've backed off for now.

All discussions and proposals for a new riding crop law has been officially postponed. Chairman Gregory Ferraro opted for postponing action following the reactions inside and outside of the Racing community. It was met with approval via a vote 4-3. Ferraro also stated that after hearing some of the comments, he believes they ought to look at the issue a little longer before making a decision. We shall see if he means what he says. We've got eight months until the Breeder's Cup to find out.