Why the whip rules will never be black and white

Tom Walter - Wednesday October 11

The aftermath of last Saturday's Group I Spring Champion Stakes brought the controversial whip rule back into the spotlight so Racenet has sought clarification from Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel.

Ace High defeated Tangled in a thrilling finish to the Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) at Randwick before stewards identified that Ace High's rider Tye Angland had struck his mount nine times prior to the 100m mark – four more than the permitted amount.

Stewards ultimately concluded that Angland's infringement did not have a tangible effect on the result but fined the jockey $4000.

The margin between Ace High and Tangled on the line was a short head, which raises the question – how can we objectively quantify the influence whip use has had on a particular runner?

The simple answer is we can't, because horses respond to whip use in vastly different ways – some need it to keep their mind on the job while others don't need it at all.

The unfortunate reality is that the stewards' decision on a whip-related protest is purely discretionary which breeds controversy, especially when the stakes are high such as in last Saturday's $500,000 Spring Champion Stakes (to say nothing of the fact that both Ace High and Tangled are stud-aspiring colts).

"It is a subjective decision where we have to be satisfied that if a horse is struck illegally it has either responded or continued to sustain its effort as a result of those illegal strikes," Van Gestel said.

"With the Ace High incident, the stewards couldn't be satisfied that four extra strikes of the whip resulted in the winner gaining an unfair advantage.

"I think in a circumstance where you have a rider significantly breaching the rule, such as 15 successive strikes before the 100m, then stewards could be satisfied that an alteration of placings may be warranted."

Jockeys have long expressed their disapproval of the whip rules and shortly after the Spring Champion Stakes, Angland joined the chorus, tweeting: "A very hard rule to focus on while trying to do your best to win."

One can only imagine what it must be like to count whip strikes while nearing exhaustion on a 500kg animal.

But if the rule is indeed here to stay, jockeys will have to adapt as some instances of whip breaches will attract more than just a fine.

"Fines are not the only deterrent. Stewards also have the power to forfeit a winning jockey's percentage of prizemoney which can obviously be significant in feature races," Van Gestel said.

"And if we think there are grounds for objection then we will lodge one. Similarly, connections have the power to do it as well.

"At the moment we don't think there's a necessity to make any further announcements regarding the rule."

Considering what transpired at the weekend, is a protest on grounds of excessive whip use now inevitable?

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