10/21/2011 12:20PM

Controversial whip rules in Britain softened

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The British Horseracing Authority on Friday eased strict new rules governing the manner in which jockeys wield their whip.

The new whip rules took effect Oct. 10 and quickly created controversy. One leading rider, Richard Hughes, gave up his license after twice running afoul of the rules. This past Saturday, jockey Christophe Soumillon had to forfeit about $79,000 in prize money earned when he won the Group 1 Champions Stakes aboard Cirrus des Aigles. A jockey strike threatened for Monday did not come to pass, and the BHA’s decision to pull back should at least cool the crisis. Hughes, in fact, returned to riding on Friday, winning at Newbury with the first mount after his return.

The rules imposed Oct. 10 limited the number of whip strikes during a contest to seven in flat races and eight in steeplechases. A rider could not strike his mount more than five times during the final furlong of a flat race or past the final barrier in a steeplechase. Friday’s changes left the total number of strikes-per-race the same, but did away with the lower limits during a race’s final stages.

The Oct. 10 rule changes –which were 10 months in the planning phase - took riding fees away if a jockey committed any whip offense. A rider also would lose his percentage of the purse if he were suspended three days for a whip infraction, and using the whip just one more time than allowed triggered a three-day ban. The changes announced Friday did away with the riding-fees penalty and changed the length of suspension triggering a purse loss from three to seven days. That means a rider who strikes his mount one more time than permissible – as was the case with Soumillon on the Champion Stakes – won’t lose purse money. The rule changes are to be applied retroactively, and Soumillon will not have to forfeit his earnings.

Wednesday, the Professional Jockeys Association published its own set of proposals for whip reform, and the revised rules decided upon Friday by the BHA are harsher than the riders’ group prefers. But the BHA also is getting pressure from the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, which is upset at the quick lifting of the strict new guidelines.

Riders in England use foam-padded crops that conform to generally accepted international standards.