Cracking the whip

Just how much do the new cushioned sticks used by jockeys hurt? Herald reporter NIALL CRONIN puts his body on the line to find out

Niall Cronin

AS we still await the BHA to apply some common sense to racing in Britain, we can be thankful that the authorities in Ireland weren't so quick to fall down with the 'PC brigade' and change the whip rules here.

The saga across the water, which has seen Richard Hughes hand in his licence, Christophe Soumillon lose over £50,000, and numerous jockeys threaten to strike, is arguably the biggest blow to the sport since foot-and-mouth.

The only thing about the foot-and-mouth was that when racing returned it was back to its good old self, but unfortunately, this time, racing will never be the same again.

So what is all the fuss about? Well, strangely enough, the answer is not much.

The new whip rules were brought into British racing due to the perception of horses being hit too often and thus suffering pain.

A 10-month review and study was undertaken after Jason Maguire hit Ballabriggs 17 times on his way to last season's Aintree Grand National, but the BHA would have been better off doing a media campaign to prove how the whips don't hurt horses rather than the terrible publicity it has received in the last week or so.


If anything, the BHA have only strengthened the case of those who campaigned against the use of the whip due to cruelty, whereas in reality it simply doesn't hurt horses or even humans.

This week I met with leading amateur rider Robbie McNamara at Punchestown to try and prove to people just how the current air-cushioned sticks used by jockeys couldn't possibly hurt a horse weighing half a tonne.

To start with, Robbie was keen to state: "They are not whips, they are persuaders. The noise of them is what makes the horses pick up rather than any pain."

As you can see in the photographs, I stood with my palm out as Robbie used his whip to the effect that he would when race riding and it wouldn't even make you flinch.

While restrictions in Britain are now in to stay, tweaks are expected today or else strike action amongst the jockeys is inevitable.

The Turf Club have formed a committee to look into the use of the whip in Irish racing, but thankfully they will have learned from all the mistakes made by the BHA -- most notably how they've made the whip out to be something that hurts horses, when no jockey or trainer would have any interest in doing just that.

Yesterday Paddy Brennan became the latest jockey to comment on the new guidelines and claimed that "the BHA are making jockeys out to be thick, we're not thick".


The Galway native said: "Will I stay riding in England forever? If you'd asked me that last year I'd have said 'definitely'. But if you ask me now, I don't know.

"When you're riding in a race over three miles on soft ground, you are not thinking of the whip, you are thinking of what's in front of you and who is around you -- it's going to be very hard."

The Gold Cup-winning rider added: "The Eider Chase (4m1f) is probably the perfect example -- you won't have any finishers."

Looking at the situation from this side of the water, McNamara and the majority of the weighroom over here feel that the rules in Britain "have gone a bit too far" and "a step too quick".

McNamara admitted that Irish jockeys are very conscious of what is going on: "The lads are taking care not to go overboard here so they don't bring any attention on the situation," he said.

The rules are likely to be changed before McNamara is in action again at an English racecourse, but he does pity anyone who has or will be going over from here, under the current format.

He added: "It would be the one thing on your mind when you're going over there and you should be just going over there thinking about racing, rather than counting or looking out for the furlong pole."