When is whipping a welter?

When is whipping a welter?

Dreams Aplenty and Violate fight out the finish in the Gunsynd Classic. Photo courtesy Ross Stevenson.

Dreams Aplenty and Violate fight out the finish in the Gunsynd Classic. Photo courtesy Ross Stevenson.

It was always going to happen.

It is absolutely pointless having a rule that either can’t – or won’t – be policed. And that is the situation racing now finds itself in regarding the whip rule, with the inevitable legal challenge being mounted against the failure of stewards to take a race away from a horse when the rider has been charged, fined and suspended for breaking the whip rule to win the race.

In the Gunsynd Classic at Eagle Farm last Saturday, Dreams Aplenty and Violate staged a two-horse battle all the way down the straight, with Dreams Aplenty prevailing in a really tight finish. The margin was a nose. Whether that was a result that could have been reversed if the whip rule wasn’t broken is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string, but the reality is that it has to be considered a possibility.

So, let’s be clear about what the whip rule actually is. Put simply, the rule makes no distinction between forehand or backhand strikes, and there is a limit of five strikes until the last 100 metres. What happened in the Gunsynd Classic? Well, Tiffani Brooker used the whip 17 times before the 100 metre mark and 27 times in all. That’s not breaking the whip rule, that’s smashing it into smithereens! The stewards reacted by fining Tiffani $2,000 and suspending her for seven days. But they didn’t reverse the result of the race because there was no protest from the connections of Violate.

How could a protest be lodged by Violate’s connections? It is simply ludicrous to think that the owners or trainer of Violate – or any horse – would be taking notice of how many times any opposing rider uses the whip during a race. Let me tell you from experience that any trainer’s focus in a race is on the horse he or she prepares, not the opposition and the owners are the same. Larry Cassidy, Violate’s jockey couldn’t help either – Tiffani was using the whip in her right hand and Violate was on the outside of Dreams Aplenty and on the opposite side from Tiffanis right hand, so there was absolutely no way Larry could have been aware of how many times the whip was used.

Who should have brought the excessive whip use to light? The stewards of course! There is a team of stewards at the races and part of their job is to watch what happens during the races. There is no way that the stewards would have been unaware of the excessive whip use either during the race, or in their review of the video after the race. Quite frankly, for the stewards to say that it is the responsibility of connections to lodge a protest in these circumstances is just a “cop out”.

There should be a whip rule, just as there should be standardisation of whip design. Nobody wants to see a return to the days when horses would come back to scale with visible welts on their bums. But if there is standardisation in design and use, there also has to be standardisation in the application of the rule. There isn’t, and the problem is there all over the country. We shouldn’t be surprised by that, though. There is very little standardisation in the application of any of the Rules of Racing across the various jurisdictions, ands that has to change for the benefit of the sport. Trainers, jockeys and owners travel their horses and they have a right to understand that the Rules of Racing will be administered reasonably evenly across Australia.

So, what happens next?

Brent Stanley, trainer of Violate, is justifiably cranky. It is simply not reasonable that the stewards at Eagle Farm neglected to draw his attention to the issue before declaring correct weight. Doing so would not have prejudiced the connections of Dreams Aplenty, the stewards would have still had to determine whether the excessive use of the whip cost Violate the race. But by not bringing the possibility of a protest to Stanley’s attention, and by doing so given him the opportunity to watch the video and decide for himself whether or not a protest was justified, the stewards, in my view, actually prejudiced the connections of Violate. The other possibility, which is certainly not without precedent, is that the stewards could have lodged a protest on behalf of the connections of Violate.

It is now headed to the courts, and racing will get another dose of unwanted negative publicity. It’s ironic that, when Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott get fined for substituting horses in what was essentially a marketing stunt and that act is deemed prejudicial to the interests of racing (and in my opinion, it was), the stewards face no sanctions when they fail to act in the best interests of racing. It is not in any way logical to fine and suspend a rider for excessive whip use, and to then have the Chief Steward say “Ultimately, we have to be satisfied the whip use exceeded the winning margin”. If that quote from the Courier Mail is accurate, and even leaving aside the fact that it mangles the English language, then what the Chief Steward seems to be saying is that although the jockey broke the whip rule by a factor of more than 3 times, it didn’t have enough of an effect to reverse a winning margin of a nose – and that’s a matter of a very small number of centimetres! Talk about being disingenuous!

Maybe now we are getting close to having one national body coordinating racing in a real sense. That’s the only way there will be consistency in the administration of the Rules of Racing, and that would surely benefit everybody.

And just for the record, I’m not talking through my wallet here – CHOOSER had them both as CHOOSER Selections!