Injured Mare Brings Controversial Topic to a Head

Courtesy of Becky Johnston

Have you ever tried explaining to a friend who is attending the races for the very first time, why these majestic animals that are bred to run, must be whipped?  You feel that familiar flush of embarrassment, knowing what you are about to say is something you don’t believe yourself. 

You can come up with excuses such as, “they need the whip to give their best effort” or “to keep them straight” or, the most ridiculous of all “to keep their rhythm”.   Horses are built with their rhythmic stride whether they are in the wild or running on a Monday afternoon at Delaware Park.  Humans only kid themselves thinking they are coaxing beauty out of an animal that cornered the market on splendor hundreds of years ago.

June 23, 2008 should be a date that will live in infamy for horse racing.  The day Jeremy Rose changed the Sport of Kings in America.  Mr. Rose, seemingly, took his whip for reasons known only to him, and sliced Appeal to the City across her face and left eye causing an abrupt head toss.  The five-year-old mare then swerved into traffic, endangering other horses and riders.  Then she was given another whack for good measure.  The filly was transported to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania for treatment of the injured eye. 

We will note here that Jeremy Rose may have had a perfectly good reason to hit the mare across the face, but he isn’t talking, and my mind cannot wrap itself around any reasonable excuse.

In reviewing Appeal to the City’s prior races, it looks to this fan’s eye that the mare resents the whip.  She actually stops progressing after she is struck.  If she did this out of fear, it is now justified. 

The Delaware Racing Authority took immediate action on the morning of June 24.  They suspended Mr. Rose until Christmas Eve this year and ordered him to attend anger management counseling of their approval. 

Astoundingly, the jock tried to get a stay of the punishment until his appeal is heard in July.  The racing commission did him a favor and flatly denied that request.  Can you imagine what coming back to the races might be like for Jeremy Rose this week?  Think about the attention Mr. Gabriel Saez got after Eight Belles’ demise following the Run for the Roses and all the sharks that brought out.  Then throw in the racing fans  that clearly see the blood in the water now and it might be best for him to just stay out of the public eye for a while and mount a defense for his actions.

This should be a rallying point for all of those people who love horse racing and can no longer stomach turning a blind eye to the abuse of the whip.  The fan base is getting smaller and smaller and this is a generation that has far too many options in front of them than to gamble on a sport that is painful to watch.

It all reminds me of a scene in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O’Hara, not known for her charitable nature, relentlessly beats the horse that brought her through a burning Atlanta all the way back to Tara and then drops dead just short of the destination.  That’s fiction, but some might argue that it looks like an afternoon at the races.

It is a fallacy that horses won’t run without the use of the whip.  Horses run straight out of the gate without encouragement on almost every occasion.  Often, the real work is slowing them down. 

Whipping is a major cause of interference in racing, with horses bearing in or out due to the whip.  Each time our first question is “did the jockey have the whip in the correct  hand?”  While this is sometimes accurate, it is also true that a horse is just as likely to lean into what is causing them pain as they are to try and get away from it.

Why wouldn’t it be a fair playing field if everyone were in the same boat and whipless?

Some may say that I want to have my cake and eat it too, because the general thought is that we don’t consider the jockey to be persevering if he doesn’t whip the horse.  In my case, I will challenge that.  The only reason that I have had quarrel with a jockey for not persevering had nothing to do with the whip.  It is when they stand up in the saddle well before the wire, having enough time to take out a cell phone and make dinner reservations, knocking me out of a trifecta. 

Delaware’s whip rules are vague, but the stewards stepped up to the plate.  California and Kentucky have much more stringent whip rules, yet they are infrequently enforced and then, for the most part, dealt with monetarily only without suspension.

The Jockey Club of England, on the other hand, has definitive rules with regard to the whip’s use and we can look to these architects of horse racing to be the leaders in banning whip use in the near future.

Where the Europeans differ from us is that they have more specific rules and they are enforced.  Rapid whipping without giving the horse time to respond is not allowed.  Some American racing jurisdictions’ regulations say this, but the Brits make it more black and white, instructing the jockeys that they must not hit a horse more than once per stride.  I can think of a few “nice-guy” North American jockeys with vicious left hands where this would apply.

Whipping must be in the backhand position, not lifted high overhead and furiously brought in contact with the horse’s hide.  If the horse is whipped down the shoulder, both hands must remain on the reins.  This rule may have helped Appeal to the City keep her eyesight, had it been in place and enforced.

Another thing that doesn’t seem to come in to play as much in Europe is who you are and who you know.  Our enforcement seems to have a heavier hand with the “little guy”.  Getting away from a suspension because of your reputation and connections are unheard of for the big named European jocks.  Just ask Frankie Dettori, who will miss the Irish Derby for his second year in a row for a whip abuse ban.

It all boils down to this.  If we don’t force changes to the sport we love, the outside interests will force it upon us.

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