Currently, there is a battle when it comes to the use of whips in thoroughbred racing. Hall of Famer Mike Smith believes perception is the biggest issue. There is much debate going on in horse racing about the topic, but jockeys say that the whips are necessary for the safety of the jockeys and the safety of the horses. Racehorsemeds.com takes a look at the subject to see what is really going on.
“Even the word,” Smith said. “Whip is just a harsh word.”
With the Kentucky Derby just weeks away, whips and riding crops are once again hot topics in the horse racing industry.
In light of the twenty-three horse deaths at Santa Anita Park since Dec. 26 of 2018, the California Horse Racing Board is considering a ban on whips in the state. The ban was originally proposed by Belinda Stronach, chief executive of the Stronach Group that owns Santa Anita Park as well as other racetracks. It was meant to be a means of showing the public that the sport is embracing reform.
Now, the connection between the horse breakdowns and the use of whips is uncertain. Smith and others in the industry are hoping to educate the public on the issue.
Smith got his jockey’s license at the age of sixteen in 1982. He said that the whips of today are much different than they were when he started his jockey career.
“Back in the old days, it was a leather popper with some fringe on it so it wouldn’t be so harsh,” Smith said, a day before riding Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby. “Now, basically, the whole thing is a cushion. You could hit yourself with it, and it isn’t going to hurt you. It will get your attention, but it isn’t going to hurt you by any means at all.”
“If you educate the public and let them see what you’re actually using, they’d be fine with it. They buy Nerf bats for their children, and they beat each other over the heads with them.”
As we know the obvious, the thoroughbreds have no say in the matter, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals aka PETA, have long advocated for banning whips.
The group was particularly outspoken after the 2015 Kentucky Derby, in which jockey Victor Espinoza used his whip thirty-two times down the stretch while urging American Pharoah to victory. Espinoza was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Derby. A month earlier though, he had been fined $300 by California racing officials for breaking the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Critics maintain that lesser experienced / talented jockeys overuse the whip to compensate for a lack of skill, but Smith said he and his peers can’t afford to abuse a horse if they want to win.
“Hurting a horse never made one run faster,” Smith said. “Matter of fact, you do the opposite. It’s about being able to hold their heads together and use the riding crop to make them focus and go forward, especially in some of those tight situations you’re in.”
Smith also stated whips actually make racing safer for the horses and jockeys.
“If you didn’t have one and you go to throwing those reins away when they start getting tired, they can misstep and that isn’t good,” he said. “You have to be able to hold the horse together.”
“Just because they’re bred to run doesn’t mean when you turn them loose in a round pen that they’re going to run around in circles. They look at things and they need to be told when to do things sometimes. They’re wild, strong animals.”
Veteran jockey Jon Court calls himself “an old-school guy” and also believes that the whips are needed. Court noted that the country of Norway banned whips at its races in 1982.
“I have watched some of these no-whip races, and I find them to be something that is not entertaining to me,” Court said. “And I’m always, always since I was a child, fascinated with horse racing.”
Court’s comments highlighted another factor in the debate, and that is with the fans and bettors.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella said he supports regulating the use of whips on horses who have no chance of winning a race. But he’s also concerned about bettors.
“Going to zero is probably not going to satisfy the betting public, which is very important,” Mandella said. “I’d hate to think of a guy having his last horse on the Pick 6 nose and nose and the boy couldn’t do anything to help encourage it to cross the wire.”
“But it will all work out. I think it will be tried and hopefully, adjustments made that will make the game better.”
Jeff Bloom is a former jockey now turned trainer, and he said “it’s incredibly important for jockeys to have the whip as a tool.”
“With the safety whips or the new poppers that they’ve implemented on the whips they have today, it’s more the use of a tool that really isn’t causing any harm or pain to horses,” Bloom said. “It’s more just the actual popping sound and the visibility of the whip in those situations.
“It’s always important to make sure that you’re monitoring all those different aspects of the welfare of the horses and making sure that riders aren’t taking advantage of situations. But I think the whip … is part of the actions that go on during the course of the race.”
We at racehorsemeds.com always support what is best for the horses. The debate about whips will continue as very little progress has been made for those looking to get rid of the whips. There may come a day where horseracing does not have the whips, but for now, they are still here and the jockeys will continue to use them for any edge that they can get to win the race.