Run-of-the-mill meetings at Salisbury, Windsor and Yarmouth are the unlikely setting for a new era in British racing, which starts on Monday when new rules enforcing tougher penalties for misuse of the whip are brought in.
Jockeys face the loss of riding fees and prize money, as well as longer suspensions, if they breach the rules which allow for any horse to be hit with the whip a maximum of seven times in Flat races or eight over jumps – roughly half the number of times that the whip could be used before.
Some riders have reacted with antipathy to the new rules and there has even been talk of the possibility of a jockeys’ strike, despite the fact that the new rules were agreed with the British Horseracing Authority by the Professional Jockeys Association.
However, Frankie Dettori, one of the sport’s most popular and best-known ambassadors, says jockeys must adapt their riding styles and make the new rules work.
“I think a lot of us accepted that something needed to be done and it’s up to all the jockeys now to work to the new rules,” he said. “The BHA tell us that there is a problem with the public perception of the sport and I think reducing the number of times that a jockey can use the whip is the right move.
“I wouldn’t want to see the whip done away with altogether. I’ve ridden in Scandinavia where they can’t use the whip at all and trainers have to work harder behind the scenes to really gee a horse up for the racecourse. That doesn’t seem right to me.
“It won’t be easy to get it right. It sounds silly but in the heat of a race it isn’t easy to keep counting right in your head. But we have to get it right.”
Paul Struthers, the BHA communications manager, said that all professional riders had been contacted with full details of the new rules by both the Authority and the PJA, while all jumps jockeys have attended mandatory seminars, which included details of the new rules, within the last fortnight. However, there will be no additional stewards on duty for the first day the new rules are implemented.
“The only thing we’re doing is making sure that jockeys are briefed again by the stewards before racing,” Struthers said.
“The stipendiary stewards have all had a training day since the rules were announced, just as they would when any rule is amended or a new penalty structure is put in place.
“It’s a pretty straightforward rule; the stewards know how to implement it.
“If anything passes by the stewards, we have the ability to pick up on it centrally, but that makes the presumption that stewards are going to miss things, whereas I suspect they will be extra-vigilant.”
Struthers defended the decision to introduce the new rules in the same week as the new British Champions Day meeting at Ascot. The concern is that any tough penalties handed out at the meeting will overshadow what is meant to be the new showpiece of the Flat season.
“What we have found in the past is that, when we introduced a three-month bedding-in period when we introduced the shock-absorbing whip, with very few exceptions riders simply kept using their old whips for as long as they could,” he said. “We felt that having announced these changes, it wouldn’t have been right not to implement them for a long time.”