France Galop has continued its drive to lessen the visible presence of the whip from racing in announcing a new maximum permitted number of five strokes, just two years after coming down from eight to six.
The new rules take effect today, though up to and including 14 March stewards can use their discretion and not sanction a jockey who employs a sixth stroke.
The decision was taken on Wednesday by the rules committee, who also took the opportunity to give added definition to the existing rule on raising the arm above the permitted level. The latest instruction is that a jockey cannot lift the elbow above the plane of the shoulders in the action of using their whip.
France Galop has long held the opinion that the number of permitted strikes should gradually be reduced in order to improve the image of racing, a belief which has been reinforced since 2016, when becoming one of six founding signatories to a charter for the wellbeing of the horse.
A spokesman for the stewards’ panel said: “To put this in context, even before we came down from eight to six strikes, there was a feeling among the various international bodies that meet regularly that the aim should be a limit of five.
“In full consultation with the Association of Jockeys, we decided together that we would like France to be a leader on this issue and with that aim, and with their agreement, we are now coming down from six to five permitted strikes.”
The reduction does lead to a greater disparity with the rules in Britain, where the maximum is seven on the Flat and eight over jumps, as well as Ireland, which does not employ a numerical limit.
British Horseracing Authority head of media Robin Mounsey said: “The BHA’s existing whip rules were recently endorsed by the UK government, which stated it is ‘satisfied that the rules in place are sufficient to restrict and limit the use of the whip in horse racing’.
“More generally, the BHA is aware that the whip continues to be a topic of debate. We are alive to that debate and listening to it with interest. The sport is currently developing an industry-wide welfare strategy which will include further consideration of the use of the whip in British racing.”
The five-stroke limit brings France into line with the strictest of Europe’s major racing jurisdictions, Germany. Penalties in Germany are also far stricter than those elsewhere, with a mandatory 14-day suspension and a loss of prize money imposed for a first offence.
Sanctions in France – where apprentice jockeys at the AFASEC schools are routinely taught that the last to go for their whip is generally the winner of a race – start at a relatively benign €75 and, historically, longer suspensions have been reserved for repeat offenders.
That philosophy will continue, although any jockey going over 10 strokes will now face a much more serious suspension than previously, with a minimum of 11 days for 11 strokes, 12 for 12 and so on, while bans have also been beefed up for infractions between eight and 10 strikes.
The spokesman said: “The occasions when a jockey goes over 10 strikes are thankfully rare and, in general, the jockeys have been extremely conscious of the need to behave responsibly and have already played their full part in modifying behaviour. They and we want to be seen as leading on this subject and to avoid having rules imposed on them from outside the sport.”