After discussions with the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition and The Jockeys’ Guild, the rules committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously passed changes to the state’s whip rules on Monday afternoon.
The whip rule has been up for discussion for some time in Kentucky. In June 2020, a joint meeting of the rules committee and the safety and welfare committee brought forth proposed changes from the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, an industry group that includes Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Those rules would have limited overhanded strikes to five in the stretch but permitted underhanded strikes at the start of a race. The guidance also allowed a rider to use the whip as necessary to course correct in an emergency, but suggested riders may be required to pull a horse up if they exhausted their strike limit during a corrective incident.
The Jockeys’ Guild had pushed back on that proposal, requesting the maximum number of over-handed strikes increase to six. A subsequent committee meeting in September resulted in a move to focus sanctions on suspensions rather than fines for violations of the new rules.
On Monday, all parties expressed their support for the following:
- A limit on overhanded strikes to a total of six prior to the 3/8 pole, while giving the horse a chance to respond after two strikes. Overhanded uses may not include the rider raising the whip above the helmet
- Underhanded or backhanded use only in the final 3/8 of a mile
- Showing the horse the whip or tapping the horse on the shoulder will remain acceptable if both hands are on the reins
- Removal of the word “strike” to refer to the use of the whip in order to improve pubic perception
- Stewards can impose either a $500 minimum fine or a three-day minimum suspension. If the violation is egregious and intentional, they could impose both. Mitigating factors could include the rider’s history with whip violations, and the number and types of use beyond the above restrictions
Jockeys’ Guild president and CEO Terry Meyocks said he is hopeful the same language will be taken to other members of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, which includes The Stronach Group, NYRA, and Del Mar, for use at those facilities.
“Having different rules in so many various states is not good for anybody,” said Meyocks. “Ideally, if the KHRC were to adopt this rule then we could work on a uniform rule throughout North America.”
“We’re not going to let ‘perfect’ get in the way of ‘really good,’” said Mike Ziegler, senior vice president and general manager of Churchill Downs and Coalition representative of the new draft of the rules.
There will be ample notice given to riders 30 to 60 days of the new rules being implemented to give them time to change their riding style before they could become subject to penalties.
KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil noted the parties had received input from legislators, who had advised them that previous versions of the whip reform rules were not likely to pass. Meyocks said that he was advised the Guild would need to be willing to compromise to find a rule that would be approved.
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