Jockeys competing in California won’t be allowed to strike a horse more than six times during a race, and then only in an underhanded position, according to a new rule approved by the California Horse Racing Board.
The rule would allow no more than two strikes in succession using whips that must meet new board standards to soften the blows.
The board voted 4-2 on Thursday in a meeting that lasted nearly seven hours to approve the rule that was first proposed in March 2019. Commissioners Alex Solis, a retired Hall of Fame jockey, and Dennis Alfieri represented the no votes.
Representatives from the Jockeys’ Guild, along with riders Mike Smith and Aaron Gryder, had urged the board to wait at least a month before voting to allow more time for a proposed national rule on whip standards to be implemented.
However, board Chairman Gregory Ferraro disagreed, saying California should set the tone in reforming how racehorses are treated rather than wait for a national standard.
"This board has a mandate from the governor to make reforms in racing that contribute to the welfare of the horse," Ferraro said during the meeting held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic. "We’ve been talking about this crop rule for two years. I think it’s time to stop procrastinating and pass a rule."
Attorney Shane Gusman, who represented the Jockeys’ Guild, said before the vote that whipping guidelines based on public perception would lead to potential accidents and negatively impact the sport in California.
"We’re concerned that it’s not going to work, and that there’s going to be real safety issues when a jockey is unable to perform his or her job," Gusman said. "What will happen is you’re going to get an accident, and either a jockey is going to get hurt or a horse is going to go down. You’re going to end racing in California. It’s just going to happen if you go down this road of trying to regulate perception rather than reality."
However, Ferraro said, "We’re never going to please the jocks. They don’t want to do anything but keep the status quo. We appreciate their argument. But it’s not going to fly in the face of the public demand that we quit hitting these horses."
The Jockeys' Guild responded in a statement Friday, addressing Ferraro's comment about keeping the status quo by saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth and is beyond offensive."
"We completely recognize the need to change the existing use of the riding crop rules," the Jockeys' Guild said. "The Guild has actively been engaging in meetings throughout the country, not just in California, to establish a uniform rule."
CHRB Rule 1688 will also prohibit the use of whips during morning training and after the finish of races.
Under the rule, jockeys would be allowed to show or wave the whip without touching the horse or tap the horse on the shoulder with the whip in the down position.
Violators would face a maximum fine of $1,000 and a minimum suspension of three days. However, there would be no penalty if the stewards determine the use of the whip was "necessary for the safety of the horse or rider."
Terence Meyocks, president and CEO of the Jockeys’ Guild, urged the board to hold off on a vote until other racing states come up with a standardized version of whipping rules.
But Scott Chaney, the board's new executive director, disagreed, saying, "It would require every other state to pass a rule, which is just not going to happen."
The rule must be reviewed by state officials and it could be October before it takes effect.