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The Grand National: a look at last year’s BHA Review Group report. Do we need a speed limit?

The Review process has been balanced, thorough and comprehensive. The Review Group, and the BHA Board, are confident that the 30 recommendations will help achieve the objectives of not only enhancing the safety and welfare of participants but also maintaining public confidence in both the sport, and the Grand National as a race.”

So said Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare at the BHA after that organisation’s review of the 2011 Grand National in which 2 horses died and 19 others failed to finish.

Last Saturday 2 horses died and 23 others failed to finish signifying that the enhancement of safety and welfare target was not reached.  A victory could be claimed on the ‘maintaining public confidence’ aspect as attendances, TV viewing and betting turnover was up.

But given that the review was so thorough and comprehensive, what else can be done?  What, if anything, did the review committee miss or get wrong last year?

In this article, I’ve listed selective extracts from the Review Group’s report, concentrating on the aspects most commonly discussed since Saturday:

  • Speed over the first few fences

  • The drops on the landing sides

  • Loose horses

  • Field size

  • The Start

At the end I offer some potential solutions to the speed issue by way of stirring up some creative thinking on the part of reformers.

NB, from here on in this document, any text not in italics is extracted directly from the review document; italicised text represents my comments.

Extracts from  the Grand National: A Review of safety and welfare, published November 2011

Since 2000, the race averages 28.39% fallers, compared to 21.48% for the other four races staged on the Grand National circuit.

The fence-by-fence Grand National faller data since 1990 highlighted that, the first 1 minute 35 secs up to and including jumping Becher’s Brook (Fence 6), accounts for over 53% of all falls in the race and 28% of unseated riders.

Fence 1 appears to exhibit a particular trait inasmuch as when it is jumped as the very first fence in the race its rates of 21.6% of all falls and 8.1% of all unseats compare with 0% for both categories when it is jumped on the second circuit (Fence 17).

Clearly, a significant number of runners will not set out on the second circuit having already fallen or pulled up but the Review Group
believes it is still a striking comparison and feels that it can at least in part be explained by the fact that most of the runners will never have seen an obstacle like a Grand National fence before.

On that basis, it supports a proposal made by the Aintree Executive that they seek to construct an Aintree-style fence at each of the major training centres and encourage trainers to school their runners over it.  This approach was previously adopted after the last major regulatory review of the Grand National in 1998. But there is a need to re-invigorate this practice.

In view of the unique fence design of the Grand National fences, the Aintree Executive shall again liaise with all major Jump training centres to develop the construction and encourage the use of a well maintained Aintree-style schooling fence for trainers to use at each centre.

Was this recommendation adopted post-1998?  If not, who was responsible for policing it?  Have the post-2011 recommendations been put in place at training centres?  You will see later in this piece that the review group were not happy to make decisions based on assumptions and yet they willingly do so here in regard to the ‘surprise’ to some horses of seeing a GN fence for the first time.

This ‘lack of experience factor’ was a view I shared until I read a post on TRF by the forumite known as Venture to Cognac. His research showed that a long list of horses with experience of the fences failed to get round on other occasions. Some, of course, failed at their first attempt, but many found their previous experience to be of little value. That list includes 16 winners of the Grand National. VTC makes the point too that his research highlights the fact that raising the standard of horses by way of ratings, won’t necessarily make much difference to the number of finishers.

Back to the report’s findings . . .

Recurring fall types

It was apparent that there was a recurring type of fall at two particular fences. At Fence 1, where in very recent times there have actually been few Grand National fallers (three in the past five years), those horses that fell had a tendency to overjump the obstacle and crumple on landing some distance further away from where horses would usually be expected to land. The same manner of
landing was not apparent when the runners jumped the fence on the second circuit, as the seventeeth fence of the race.

Reinforcing the possibility of a “first fence jumped” trend is the fact that the 1990 – 2011 Topham races (run on day two of the three-day Grand National Meeting over a distance of 2 miles 5 1/2 furlongs) has produced eighteen fallers at the first in the Topham (i.e. Fence 13 of the Grand National course) out of 112 in total and yet Fence 13 is not at all a higher risk fence when jumped in the Grand National.

Similarly, Fence 1 on the Grand National course – which is jumped as the fifth fence in the Topham – has had no falls or unseated riders whatsoever in the Topham since 1990.

Of further interest to the Review Group when looking at the Topham faller/unseated data is that the Grand National Fence 4 and Becher’s (in particular) again demonstrate faller and unseat percentages that are higher than all but the first in The Topham, i.e. Fence 13 in the Grand National. This is despite the fact that they are jumped as the 8th and 10th Fences respectively in the Topham.

Jockey feedback from the consultation sessions essentially stated that all the Grand National fences looked and rode well, and that very little, if anything, needed to be changed.

When presented by Review Group members with a) the faller statistics for Fences 1, 4 and Becher’s (Fence 6) and b) options for change, the jockeys acknowledged the logic of exploring a possible reduction in the effective drop of these obstacles as they were clearly amongst the fences with the highest faller rates.

Going too fast from the off?

The uniquely long run of 420 yards to the first fence – coupled with its higher than normal percentage of fallers (albeit less in recent years), many of which fell by over-jumping the obstacle – appears to indicate that speed is a risk factor in the early stages of the Grand National.

2000 – 2011 split timings data to each of the first ten fences was compiled for the Review Group with a view to establishing whether there was any clear correlation between the Going, early pace of the race and the number of early fallers/injuries.

However no such clear correlation appears to exist across the relatively small sample size of twelve races.

For instance, the fastest run to the first fence in the data set was 27.44secs in 2000 on Good Going. This resulted in five fallers. Yet the third slowest run to the first (in 2002: 29.00secs, also on Good Going) resulted in eight fallers and one unseated rider. Similarly, the 2000 Grand National was the fastest (of the twelve assessed) to Becher’s Brook and by the time that obstacle had been jumped there had been ten fallers; the 2002 running remained the third slowest to Becher’s but it too had seen ten fallers and two unseats after that fence.

Of the twelve races, the 2011 race holds a middling position of being the fifth slowest to the first and the fifth fastest to Becher’s Brook. In the 2000-2011 period the two renewals (2003 and 2005) with the least fallers/unseats up to and including Becher’s Brook were, respectively, the seventh and fourth fastest to reach the fence. Clear correlations between early speed and the Going and/or fallers are therefore not apparent.

Perhaps the group were seeking too many correlations here and relying heavily on accurate going descriptions for a specific section of the course – the first six fences which, it is worth repeating, have claimed 53% of total race fallers and 28% of total race unseats since 1990.  From a fence-count viewpoint, 20% of the fences here have accounted for a large % of falls/unseats.  On a time basis – duration of the race at standard time – 17.6% of the duration resulted in 53%/28% group of falls/unseats.

Back to the findings . . .

However, the Review Group supports the Aintree Executive’s plan to investigate the introduction of even more irrigation capability along the section of the Grand National course from the Melling Road to Becher’s Brook. The flexibility of being able to apply extra targeted irrigation to soften or slow down the ground, can only be a positive measure.

The Aintree Executive should investigate the feasibility of introducing additional irrigation capability to the section of the Grand National course running from the start along to Becher’s Brook. As long as irrigation is applied judiciously, with a view to providing Going just on the softer side of Good, there is no downside to seeking to implement an even more flexible watering capability along the part of the track where the majority of falls occur.

How would horses react from going from softish ground to good ground after fence 6 and, possibly more importantly, meeting that ground again on circuit 2? Also, were the weather  to take a sudden late turn for the worse, what would the effect be on that section of track?

Sectional timing

Notwithstanding the lack of clear statistical correlation between early speed and number of early fallers, the Review Group is still of the opinion – having reviewed the TV footage of all Grand Nationals from 2000 and listened to participant feedback – that the pace over the initial fences in the race is certainly faster than in any routine long-distance Steeplechase over traditional birch fences.
This pace appeared to be maintained up to and including the jumping of Becher’s Brook (Fence 6).

The Review Group and Aintree Executive concluded that more specific sectional timing research would be helpful in this area to fully understand the effects of early speed on the number of finishers in the race. The Group supports Aintree’s plan to investigate the possible use of speed and positioning technology (i.e. sectional timing equipment carried in the number cloth of every runner) to track the speed of all runners in future. This would improve statistical analysis of the pace of the race so that any correlations can be
drawn from the data.

The race is run just once a year so this seems to me a slightly daft proposal. How long would it take to build reliable data?  Given the furore raised by the last two runnings, we simply do not have time to wait ten years or more.

Currently, the Group can only make a subjective judgement on the basis of a) fairly basic split time data and b) TV footage – that the over-jumping falls at the first fence and high faller rate up to and including Becher’s Brook are due solely to the faster early pace of the Grand National in general when compared to more “routine” staying Steeplechases on other British licensed racecourses.

A blog post by Matt Bisogno featured this observation:

But I think there is a bigger issue that has not yet been adequately addressed, and I have a radical proposal to help address it. The issue is that of speed in the early part of the race. It has long been held that the way to win the Grand National is to be prominent early through a mad gallop, and to cling on late when stamina is running out.

Consider this: Neptune Collonges was last from the start and not prominent until Bechers second time (as the above image shows), so there is no necessity to be close up early.

More importantly, consider this: the first two furlongs of the Listed Further Flight Stakes, a 1m6f flat race, were run in around 27.5 seconds (hand timed) last week.

The approximately two furlong run* from the start of the Grand National to the first fence was completed this year in 26.5 seconds. Last year, it was a slightly more measured 27.6 seconds (all hand timed).

This is patently too fast, and extremely dangerous. And it creates a problem of momentum: once a rider has a horse travelling at that pace, trying to establish a position and a rhythm in the race, that rider must maintain the pace. Or at least feels he must.

*It’s 20 yards short of two furlongs

Matt goes on to suggest moving the start forward by a furlong, therefore reducing the race distance to 4m 3f.  The Review group did consider moving the start . . .

Options for Managing Initial Race Speed

In the meantime, the Review Group still wished to consider whether there were options that could be implemented now to materially reduce the initial speed. These were discussed with the sport’s participants.

The possibility of reducing the run to the existing first fence by bringing forward the start position found no support whatsoever from the jockeys consulted. They believed that to have any effect the start would need to be approximately 110yds from the first fence and this would result in less time for all the runners to find room before the obstacle. They felt that this could have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of incidents at the first fence. Some of the jockeys also felt that the pace would just rise soon after jumping the first if the run to it were reduced. They also pointed out that few runners are ever being vigorously ridden or pushed along “off the bridle” as they approach the first fence.

The majority of trainers consulted believed the start position should remain unchanged. However, there was some support for reducing the distance to the first fence on the basis that this approach was adopted in the Topham Chase from 2005 when the run to the first fence from its then two miles six furlongs start was reduced by half a furlong. There have been four fallers and just one unseated rider at the first fence in the subsequent seven renewals of the Topham Chase from the new start. Albeit it is probably too early to conclude statistically that this improvement is purely due to the new start position.

The trainers also believed that the jockeys had a responsibility to ride the Grand National sensibly at a maintainable gallop and that this should be emphasised at their pre-race briefing.  (Er, I think we know by now folks that this is simply not going to happen and there is plenty of evidence to back that up!)

The members of the Authority’s Course Inspectorate within the Review Group have reservations as to where a substantively shortened start position could be suitably located. Therefore, they did not support a reduced run to the first fence from 2012. Similarly, they do not believe there is real scope to significantly and safely bring forward Fence 1 towards the current start location, due mainly to the position of the Melling Road. Neither of the participant groups had supported that option when consulted.

They didn’t support what seems a very sensible idea because it presents a practical/logistical difficulty?

Sighter fence

The concept of an additional, smaller (but still Aintree-style) fence between the current start position and first fence was also discussed with the participant groups and within the Review Group. This was considered on the basis that it could help to decrease initial speed and then be removed ahead of the runners returning on the second circuit. The idea of a “sighter” fence was not supported, however, with most consultees believing it would simply increase the fundamental level of risk by effectively creating a 31st fence to negotiate, as well as provide less time for the jockeys to find racing room. Course topography also ruled out this option.

Whilst the possibility of bringing the current first fence closer to the current start position (or vice versa) found little support amongst the participant groups and brings with it practical challenges and potentially unintended consequences, both options should remain under close consideration beyond 2012.   The impact of the new changes to Fences 1, 4 and 6 (Becher’s Brook should dictate whether the start/first fence dynamic still needs to be altered in future.

Drop fences

The RSPCA among others, is keen to eliminate drop fences; according to the review group, that means altering almost every fence. Back to the findings . . .

Another unique aspect of the Grand National course fences is that virtually all of the obstacles have a “drop” to some degree when  measuring the height difference between the ground level at the take-off area and the ground level on the (lower) landing side of the obstacle. The professional survey work carried out since this year’s race shows that fourteen of the sixteen fences have an average drop of over four inches, when measured at five metre intervals across the width of the landing area, with the biggest being at Becher’s Brook (thirteen inches).

At Becher’s Brook (i.e. Fence 6 and 22) – the obstacle with the biggest drop on the landing side – the clear reason for most jockeys and horses parting company involved the horse being angled by the rider from a position opposite the middle of the fence towards the inner at take-off and either: • making a mistake and taking a very steep or rotational landing trajectory with the jockey often landing feet first, or; • jumping the fence well but nodding on landing and falling or unseating the jockey whilst sliding to a halt along the

The Start

At the Review Group’s consultation meeting with the jockeys, they reported that the methodology for starting the Grand National was good and they did not believe there was any need to change it. However, they all agreed that the horses should be on course at the start for as short a time as possible after the official Parade had taken place.

There was no suggestion from any of the participants consulted that the physical size of the start area negatively impacted on fairness or the welfare of the runners. It was noted, however, that the proximity and nature of the grandstands at Aintree contributed to high crowd noise levels as the runners approached the starting tape or if there was any perceived delay. By extension, the position of the start was also considered in relation to whether the initial pace of the race was a contributing factor to falls or injuries.

Loose horses

There is no doubt that loose horses can be a major danger to themselves, other participants or even Emergency Service personnel or spectators at any race meeting. Since 1990, three horses (16% of the total) have died during or very shortly after the Grand National from injuries sustained whilst riderless. Furthermore, it is impossible to plan exactly for what a loose horse might do next.  Consequently, it was important for the Review Group to clearly understand how riderless horses are managed by the Aintree Executive during the Grand National – particularly in the context of such a large footprint of flat land.

The Review Group fully appreciates the difficulties of controlling a unique site like Aintree and trying to catch all the loose horses in a timely manner. Since 2000, on average eighteen horses part company with their jockey during the race. Many will stop immediately and be caught straight away by the jockey, fence attendant, or horse-catcher. However, some do not, and it is important that the Aintree Executive does everything it can in this vital area.

The Aintree Executive informed the Review Group that on Grand National day a team of around 30 local horsemen are allocated sectors of the course, which they patrol to catch loose horses during and after the race.

Limiting the number of runners

It was clear to the Review Group from its analysis of all the TV footage of all the professional races staged on the Grand National course since 2000  that three incidents of multiple fallers/unseats/brought downs/refusals have occurred during the period reviewed:
• Fence 8 (Canal Turn), 2001: Nine horses;
• Fence 1, 2002: Nine horses;
• Fence 6 (Becher’s Brook), 2004: Eight horses
Incidents involving that number of runners are rare at other licensed Jumps racecourses, including Aintree’s Mildmay Course, and could therefore simply be a function of the Grand National fence design. At the same time, injury rates (on the basis of five years of nationwide Jump data) do appear to show an upwards trend as the numbers of runners increase, although this has not been validated by a statistical analysis, probably because of the small sample size.

A number of points suggesting a Safety Factor reduction to between 30-34 were made by the welfare organisations in their feedback to the effect that: • it is logical that if the number of horses exposed to the risk factors of the race is reduced, so too will the number of injuries and the likelihood of loose horses causing incidents; • no other Jumps race has a Safety Factor higher than 30 and yet the
Grand National’s is 33.33% greater than that figure.

The delegations of trainers and jockeys consulted by the Review Group unanimously supported the retention of a Safety Factor of 40. (Turkeys, voting and Christmas are words the review group might have considered on hearing this.)

The Review Group found no recurring trend whatsoever of horses systematically failing to get a clear sight of the fences as they prepared to jump them. Virtually all the fallers reviewed during that period had a clear run to the fence where they fell or unseated their jockey.

Furthermore, the Review Group considered research carried out through its Inspectorate team and established that the average available “width of fence per horse” on the Grand National course was comparable to the averages for all licensed Jumps courses, including the width of fence per horse at other very high profile jumps fixtures.

(NB, from here, my comments are no longer in italics)

So where now for the BHA and for the world’s greatest race?  Pressure from the public/media for a reduction in field size is the change most likely to be resisted by trainers and jockeys. If drop fences are to be altered again, they will need to consider which ones and to what degree they will change them.  The RSPCA seem strongly opposed to these drops and their fairly new Chief Exec, Gavin Grant could well push for the complete elimination of all drops.  Racing should not, I believe, underestimate Mr Grant’s ambition for change.  In a Radio 4 phone-in on April 17th, he said “”Unless the BHA really respond here, and are seen to respond, I think the days of NH racing and the Grand National are numbered”

The Review Group’s suspicion that speed over the first six fences plays a large part in non-completions was not fully reinforced by the 2012 stats (36% of fallers, 16% of unseats) but given that the figures are based on data since 1990, the group will be under pressure now, I believe, to act  ‘on the balance of probabilities’ rather than trying to gather further data by way of technology. With the first 95 seconds of the National accounting for well over 50% of  fallers/URs combined, that part of the race simply must be slowed.  But how?

Well, they might try the selective watering mentioned in the report.  Or they could opt for much more radical solutions like setting speed limits for that section, but how would you enforce any limit?

Maybe a rule could be brought in decreeing that any horse landing over the first in under 33 seconds is disqualified:  touching down over Becher’s in under 1 minute 50 (15 seconds longer than the average), means disqualification. Large digital clocks could be set high above each side of the first six fences . . .

What about replacing the turf on that 420 yard run to the first with a deep all-weather type surface, consistent and resistant to temperature and rain?

Or perhaps running  a lead vehicle on the inside track just after Melling Rd, travelling at a pre-agreed speed with the jockeys instructed not to pass, under penalty of disqualification, till after Becher’s? This is very practical from a logistics viewpoint: the old Grand Prix track at Aintree is still in excellent condition. Its back straight runs close enough to that line of fences for jockeys be to be able to see it easily, without it being a distraction.  In practise, I think the vehicle would need to pull a long trailer – with a large board/sign at the rear (good branding opportunity for the sponsors!)

What would you do? (Please leave your ideas in the Comments section below. Perhaps Aintree will pay a nice fat fee to anyone coming up with the answer!)

The full Review Group report is here

Is the RSPCA ready to leave racing and can racing prosper without them?

Paul Bittar

Thirty four days into his new job as Chief Executive of the BHA, Paul Bittar made his mark today as the BHA board approved an amendment to the whip rules, the third and most significant change to these rules since their introduction on October 10th 2011.

The BHA review which resulted in the ‘new’ whip rules, took almost a year and, one would imagine, significant resources. When the review was published Paul Roy, Chairman of the British Horseracing Authority, said:

“This has been an incredibly wide-ranging piece of work, resulting in a comprehensive Review that the Authority is very proud of. The Board approved every one of the recommendations and the message is loud and clear – we will continue to lead the way in responsible regulation and will make difficult decisions in the best interests of the sport and its participants.

Today’s decision by the BHA effectively neutered the rigid objectives of the original review and, by implication discredited its authors. I wonder what Jamie Stier,  Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation, and Professor Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare – key figures in championing the original review – had to say for themselves at today’s meeting.

When the review was published, Tim Morris said:  “Use of the whip is, understandably, a sensitive issue. Safeguarding the welfare of racehorses is a priority for the Authority and we are committed to ensuring and enhancing horse welfare, taking an approach backed strongly by current animal welfare science. The thoroughness of this Review, and the conclusions it reaches, are yet further demonstrations of this commitment.”

The key animal welfare groups were consulted during the review but prior to the latest changes, no contact was made with the RSPCA other than to inform them the review was taking place.  This looks to me like a deliberate snub by Paul Bittar with the intention of showing the RSPCA who is boss, a stance I believe he might regret.

Just to clarify my position – I am not a partisan defender of the RSPCA or of the October 10th whip rules.

My view on the whip rules was that they could never be seen to be fair unless some form of ‘force index’ was also taken into account. For example, 8 full-blooded whacks might be considered within the limits while 16 rhythmic ‘flicks’ might earn a lengthy suspension.

Perhaps some form of ‘force index’ consideration is what the BHA now seeks from stewards:

“While well intentioned, and in accordance with initial requests from the jockeys for clarity and consistency via a fixed number, in practice the new rules have repeatedly thrown up examples of no consideration being given to the manner in which the whip is used as well as riders being awarded disproportionate penalties for the offence committed.” (Extract from today’s BHA statement).

A number of people in racing believe the RSPCA has had too much influence on the whip rules. David Muir, the RSPCA’s racing consultant has never left me in any doubt that the welfare of the horse is his sole concern. He comes across as having no personal axe to grind nor any appetite for grandstanding. Indeed, I understand that a number of influential people within the RSPCA believe the organisation should not be associated with racing, a stance Mr Muir has vigorously opposed.

Mr Muir has been working on trying to make hurdles safer and, also, on further changes to whip design which could, in the long term, include a microchip which measures force as well as frequency. He argued for years that cooling off facilities for horses should be made available at the end of the Grand National. The introduction of the new whip rules last October were a major boost for Mr Muir;  apart from the personal satisfaction of seeing horse welfare improved, it made his on-going battle to keep the RSPCA ‘on racing’s side’ much easier. Mr Muir sent me a fiery response to today’s changes which I now understand was written by ‘the RSPCA press office’ and not Mr Muir himself.  The heated language shows how difficult that internal political battle to keep the RSPCA committed to racing will now be.

Tonight David Muir told me: “I will monitor the results  of the changes and if they impact negatively on the welfare of the racehorse then I will seek that the BHA are held accountable for their actions, but likewise if they work well, I will hold my hand up and admit my error.”

Could racing survive without the RSPCA? Probably.  Could it prosper without them?  Perhaps not. By abandoning racing the RSPCA might, by implication, be seen to be condemning it. Their role is the prevention of cruelty to animals. When Animal Rights organisations, like Animal Aid, accuse racing of abusing and killing horses, who will the BHA ask to speak in its favour?

Without the legitimate advocacy of the RSPCA, groups like Animal Aid could attend every race meeting and demand that the police investigate their allegations of cruelty.

Without a balanced viewpoint from the RSPCA on radio phone-ins and media interviews, what sort of impact would AA and the like have on racing’s image?

Would race sponsors endorse a sport which the RSPCA had deserted? Would the BBC? Would racegoers?

Racing needs the RSPCA. I hope the BHA’s bold move today in shunning the RSPCA does not make David Muir’s defence of the racing industry to his employers untenable.

Joe McNally

“This is a black day for the racing Industry” RSPCA’s response to the amended whip rules

RSPCA Statement on BHA rules

“It’s absolutely staggering that the BHA has taken such a clear backward step, less than six months after the new whip rules were introduced. Not only has the BHA failed to consult the RSPCA or other welfare groups about its plans but the decision flies in the face of scientific research which shows that excessive use of the whip actually increases the likelihood of falls.

“This is a black day for the racing industry but the real losers today are horses – jockeys have effectively been given a licence to beat them with impunity. We are extremely disappointed that once again the BHA has seen it necessary to change the rules in favour of the jockeys, despite having already allowed two previous concessions.

“Since the new rules limiting the use of the whip were introduced there appears to be a culture of change among jockeys, which is a positive move forward. This latest move sees the preventative, punitive, element of the new whip rules reduced even further which gives us real cause for concern.”

NB I originally attributed this statement to David Muir, the RSPCA’s consultant, who emailed it to me. David tells me he was not the author and that it was written by the RSPCA’s press office.  Joe McNally

PJA statement on changes to whip rules

Professional Jockeys Association welcomes revisions to whip rules and penalties 

Following the announcement of changes to the Rules of Racing relating to the use of the whip by the British Horseracing Authority, Paul Struthers, Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, said:

“The PJA is pleased by today’s decision by the British Horseracing Authority to make important amendments to both the Rules and the penalties relating to the use of the whip within racing.

“The adjustment to the penalty regime is welcome, as the previous penalty structure was not appropriate. However, of greater importance is the general change of approach to how the Rules are fundamentally framed and applied, which was the overriding issue, not just for jockeys but for racing generally.

“This change recognises that a ‘grey’ issue cannot be proportionately and fairly regulated by a ‘black and white’ Rule, and that Jockeys are skilled horsemen who care passionately about horses and are being denied the ability to use their full skill and judgement throughout the course of the race.

“If this is implemented as the PJA believes is the intention, Jockeys will no longer be punished for genuine, wholly unintended mistakes nor for otherwise perfectly acceptable rides. I will continue the dialogue with the BHA as they finalise the guidelines for how this approach will be implemented.

“Around 90% of the offences under the Rules that came into force in October 2011 would not have come close to constituting an offence under the old Rules. Jockeys have collectively made Herculean efforts to change their riding styles overnight and deserve enormous credit not just for that but for their patience whilst discussions to find a sensible solution to the major issues were taking place.

“There might still need to be further minor adjustments and the PJA will continue to work closely with the BHA as part of the on-going monitoring. However, everyone hopes that once the revised interpretation of the Rules comes into force, racing can return to talking about the positives, rather than focusing on and reinforcing an inaccurate and unwarranted impression of both the sport and its Jockeys.

“This has been an on-going process over the last two months and I would therefore like to extend credit to my predecessor Kevin Darley for his efforts. Just because the PJA did not publicly and explicitly speak about certain concerns does not mean that they were not raised as fundamental issues for its members.”

Full BHA press release on changes to whip rules


British Horseracing Authority announce forthcoming amendments to Whip Rules
At their Board meeting today the Directors of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) approved a proposal for a fundamental change to the rules governing use of the whip, together with revisions to the existing penalty structure.

The Board agreed to progress a proposal in which the fixed number of times use of the whip is permitted is replaced by an emphasis on reviewing the manner in which the whip is used, as well as taking account of frequency. The new rule will be ready for implementation in early March.

Paul Bittar, Chief Executive of the BHA said:

“Over four months have passed since the introduction of the first set of rules following the Whip Review. Despite a number of changes to both the rule and the accompanying penalty structure it is clear that while many objectives of the Review are being met, and in particular those pertaining to horse welfare, a rule which polices the use of the whip based solely on a fixed number of strikes is fundamentally flawed.

“While well intentioned, and in accordance with initial requests from the jockeys for clarity and consistency via a fixed number, in practice the new rules have repeatedly thrown up examples of no consideration being given to the manner in which the whip is used as well as riders being awarded disproportionate penalties for the offence committed.

“The challenge is to have in place a rule and penalty structure which meets the objectives for fairness and proportionality outlined in the Whip Review while retaining the positives which have been a product of the changes to date. These include the virtual removal of all serious breaches and an overall reduction in the number of offences.

“We are confident there is not a welfare problem associated with the use of the cushioned whip in British Racing.

“The objective of this proposal is to keep jockeys riding to a similar standard as they are now with regard to their significantly reduced use of the whip, but with added discretion and common sense applied by stewards when considering whether a rider is in breach of the rules.”

As a consequence of the Board decision, rather than it being an automatic breach when a rider uses the whip eight times on the Flat and nine times over jumps, the figures become the trigger point for the stewards to review the ride in question. Stewards will then consider how the rider has used the whip in the course of exceeding the number before deciding whether a breach has occurred and a penalty is warranted.

The Board also sanctioned the introduction of a revised penalty structure, the aim of which is to increase the proportionality of the penalties, in particular for minor offences. Within the context of the current rule, the Board approved the proposal for treating cases of frequency of both one and two over as Lower Level breaches, whereby one over will still warrant a two day ban and two over will incur four day ban, rather than five days as at present.

In addition, repeat offences at both the Lower and Upper Level will not result in the penalty multiplying. Instead, each offence will be treated on its merits. However, a fifth ‘Lower Level’ offence or a fourth Upper Level offence within six months will result in a referral to the Disciplinary Panel. This ensures that there is a threshold at which repeat offenders are held accountable.

The changes to the penalty structure will take effect from Thursday 23rd February and will be retrospectively applied to suspensions still to be served.

Paul Bittar continued:

“Prior to the implementation of the new whip rules, stewards policed cases of mis-use of the whip based on similar principles to that outlined in the proposal. The difference with this proposal is the markedly lower and clarified threshold levels for when a ride will be reviewed.

“It is recognised that the most demanding challenge in relation to framing the rules on this subject is finding the balance between a proportionate penalty and one that also acts as an effective deterrent. In particular, the Board recognises that this question may come under scrutiny in major races and reserve the right to make further revisions in the future.”


Ruby Walsh RUK interview (recording) on new whip rules – 26/10/2011

Nick Luck interviewed Ruby by telephone on RUK.  Click the link below to hear the recording (there are some gaps due to satellite drop-out but all content is there)


Ruby Walsh on RUK Oct 26 2011

Jockeys reportedly believe abusing horses for publicity is a good idea

The Racing Post reports today that among the plans discussed by jockeys to highlight their case against the new rules, is to stage a race where, when every jockey has used up his quota – (I’m assuming it will be a NH race so 8 strokes), they will all pull up.

At first I thought it was a joke. If they are serious, what it means is that they will set out to deliberately hit each horse in that race the maximum number of times – whether the horse’s behaviour or position in the race merits it or not. In other words, they will abuse animals . . . for publicity.

In case you’d like to read that again. Our jockeys are considering abusing animals for publicity.

What manner of intellect is at play in the weighing room? If the above is true then these people shouldn’t be allowed near an animal, in sport or in any other field.

A new rule of bringing the sport into disrepute needs to be established as quickly as possible. If it is and could be retrospectively applied, the instigators of such an idea should be warned off for a very long time.

I’ve been involved with racing for over 40 years, if such a race ever takes place, I’ll be gone for good, vomiting in disgust on the way out.

Recording of Ryan Moore’s phone call to RUK about the whip rules

A normally very reticent Ryan Moore called in to the RUK studio to comment on the whip issue and defend Kevin Darley.  There are gaps in the recording due to broadcasting/satellite issues but all of the interview is there. RUK presenters are Angus McNae and Dave Yates.

Click the link below:


AP McCoy speaking on 5 Live on Oct 19 about Wetherby ban and whip issue

The link below takes you to the AP recording


Being Kevin Darley

Interpreting Kevin Darley:

What he said today: What he should have said

“There is now a process of proper consultation and discussion involving jockeys which should have happened before the original announcement by the BHA last month. I apologise for not ensuring that this detailed consultation took place when I was first approached by the BHA

“Had we been properly consulted over some of the important details that relate directly to jockeys prior to that announcement we feel that we would not be in the position we are today. If I had paid much closer attention to the implications of simply signing off an endorsement of the new rules in such ringing terms, we would not be in the position we are today.

“Jockeys have no issues with the restricted amount of times they can use the whip under the new rules. The careers of jockeys are short by definition and the implications of financial penalties and long suspensions are savagely disproportionate. I accept that jockeys careers have not suddenly got shorter since I signed off the BHA press release nor have the savagely disproportionate penalties been changed. With this in mind, I apologise to the BHA for misleading them and to my members for so badly misrepresenting their position. I feel I have no choice but to bring forward my resignation date and step down now”