Things We Learned » Whip rules flawed

Whip rules flawed

Whip rules, here we go again. I know. Here’s the thing though: when you ask the wrong question, you get an irrelevant answer.

Almost all of the recent focus pertaining to the whip rules in Britain has been on the severity of the punishment that has been meted out to offending jockeys. A 10 grand fine and a seven-day ban for James Doyle for his ride on Noble Mission in the Champion Stakes. A 15-day ban for Davy Condon for his ride on the Ladbroke winner and a four-day ban for Sam Twiston-Davies for his ride on the runner-up. A four-day ban for Aidan Coleman – imposed 21 days after the event – for his winning ride on Emperor’s Choice in the Welsh National.

Were the jockeys treated too harshly? Were they let away too lightly? Should the horses have been disqualified?

In essence, they are the wrong questions. The fundamental problem is not with the punishments, but with the rule.

We have been here on several occasions before, but think about it. Logic dictates that, if you break the rules in a competition, in any competition, you should not be allowed to win. It is only because this rule is flawed that the punishment is commuted to something less than disqualification. There may be another sport out there in which you can be found to be in breach of the rules of competition in victory and still be allowed to retain your victory, but fair play to you if you can think of one.

And you can’t get around this one by claiming that it is just a racing thing. Take the wrong course, you are disqualified. Carry the wrong weight, you are disqualified.

People who are currently arguing for disqualification if a rider breaks the whip rules do so from the starting point that the rule is set in stone. In order for disqualification to work in practice, it would require a seismic and painful shift in mindsets, but that is to miss the point anyway. It is the wrong debate. It is the wrong starting point.

The rule should not be set in stone. It is a flawed rule. That is the fundamental issue. The potential upside of breaking it can be far greater than the punishment even if you are found guilty, and that is a poor starting point for any rule in any walk of life.

There needs to be a return to fundamentals. Why is there a whip rule in the first place? Nobody wants to see horses being flailed in a finish, but jockeys use cushioned whips these days. That is as it should be. It is an animal welfare thing. So what about the whip rule? Is it an animal welfare thing or is it an aesthetics thing? Are the whip rules in place because somebody decided that it looks bad if a rider hits a horse more than seven times? And to whom does it look bad?

Unfortunately, there is a political element to it, as evidenced by a motion that has been tabled on Tuesday by a Liberal Democrat MP calling for the use of the whip to be banned for all but reasons of control, and perhaps that puts the BHA in an invidious position. However, you don’t need to be a senior steward to recognise the occasions on which a rider is genuinely resorting to excessive use of the whip. A little bit of common sense will tell you. And that ingredient – the common sense one – should be the key ingredient in the governance of the whip rules going forward.

Better ground stands side

By common consensus, The New One was not impressive in winning the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock on Saturday, but it could have been even worse. It may be that he would have been even less impressive but for Sam Twiston-Davies’ decision to keep the 1/6 favourite towards the stands side in the home straight.

True, Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse did jump to his right on occasion, but his rider kept a hold of his right rein all the way up the home straight in order to ensure that he raced towards the near side, and that may be where the best of the ground was on the day.

The evidence on the day suggested that the further you came away from the inside rail on the day, both on the hurdles track and on the chase track, the better the ground got.

In the first race, the three-mile handicap hurdle, American Life went to the front early in the home straight, but he raced against the inside rail, and he ultimately tired and finished third.

In the same race, Milansbar appeared to be treading water in behind American Life early in the home straight. It wasn’t until Trevor Whelan took him off the rail and into the centre of the track that he picked up and finished less slowly than his rivals, closing Barafundle down to a length by the time they reached the winning line as the winner drifted down towards the far rail.

Aso was the best horse on the day in the Rossington Main Hurdle, but it was still significant that the astute Aidan Coleman took him wide of leader Kiama Bay from the second last flight to the last, and only allowed him drift down towards the inside rail when he was clear with the race in the bag, and when to correct his drift may have checked his forward momentum.

It was probably a similar story on the chase track on the day, although the case is a little less compelling. The winner of the Altcar Novices’ Chase Wakanda jumped to his left at each of the final three fences, but he was still the horse who raced closest to the stands rail all the way up the home straight.

Winner Mwaleshi jumped to his right in the graduation chase, but Jonathan England was intent on taking him over to the stands side in the home straight even before he jumped the first fence there. By contrast, the Peter Marsh winner Samstown jumped a little to his left, but Brian Harding still wanted to race towards the stands rail. Also, when Sam Twiston-Davies got Benbens to rally again, it was towards the stands side that he raced as Samstown drifted back towards the centre of the track as he tired.

It is difficult to be dogmatic about these things but, on the evidence that we have from Saturday, you can probably mark up the efforts of the horses who raced towards the inside up the home straight. These include American Life, Milansbar, Colour Squadron (surely there is a chase in him) and One For Arthur, who battled on well against the far rail to get the better of long odds-on favourite Subtle Grey in the finale.

Market moves

It was interesting to watch the market moves for the Champion Chase directly after Dodging Bullets beat Sprinter Sacre in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday.

General expectation was that Sprinter Sacre would either win well or be well beaten. When he finished second, there was a lingering uncertainty about whether it was a positive or a negative.

Immediate Champion Chase quotes for Sprinter Sacre ranged from 7/2 to 5/2, while Dodging Bullets was cut to prices that ranged from 6/1 to 4/1, and Sire De Grugy was cut to odds that ranged between 5/2 and 9/2.

The markets have now conformed, as markets tend to do. Best prices now are 11/4 Sprinter Sacre, 9/2 Sire De Grugy and 5/1 Dodging Bullets. Of the three, Dodging Bullets is still the one who looks over-priced.

International ratings

There is no disputing the fact that Japanese racing is up there with the best racing in the world. That has been the case for a while now, and it is a factor that has started to gain universal traction in recent years.

Just A Way is obviously a top class racehorse, and the performance that he put up in winning the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan last March was truly astonishing. However, they went very fast very early in that race, and Just A Way was able to make his ground from the rear and finish strongly.

The son of Heart’s Cry raced four times after that last year. He got home by a nose in the Yasuda Kinen on his next run, and he was beaten in the other three. He finished eighth in the Arc, he finished second, beaten four lengths by compatriot Epiphaneia, in the Japan Cup, and he finished fourth in the Arima Kinen over Christmas.

He recorded a Timeform figure of 131 in the Dubai Duty Free when he had the race run to suit, but he didn’t record a figure any higher than 126 at any other stage in 2014. It is strange that a horse who was beaten in his last three races was the best horse in the world in 2014.

Djakadam gold prospect

On His Own won the Thyestes Chase last year by six lengths under 11st 6lb and off a mark of 142; Djakadam won the Thyestes Chase this year by eight lengths under 11st 10lb and off a mark of 145. This year’s winner carried 4lb more, was rated 3lb higher and won by two lengths further.

On His Own was a 10-year-old last year who had run 11 times over fences; Djakadam is a six-year-old this year who has run just five times over fences. On the face of it, this year’s winner should have much more potential for progression.

On His Own is trained by Willie Mullins. Djakadam is trained by Willie Mullins. Check.

On His Own finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year, beaten a short head.

Djakadam deserves his chance at Gold this year.

© The Irish Field, 24th January 2015