California Limits Whip Use with Kentucky Following Suit

Posted By Jennifer Newell on June 16, 2020

The California Horse Racing Board took action this month on a proposal introduced more than a year ago. Its members finally addressed – in the form of a lengthy discussion and a vote – reforms to the use of whips during horse racing.

Whipping has been controversial for many years, even down to the most basic use of the term: whip or crop. While there are technical differences between the various tools, it exemplifies the intricacies of the debate about the act itself.

California took a step last week that is seen as controversial, not even as much for its actual new standard but for the questions it raises. Did the CHRB go too far? Is the horse racing industry not going far enough?

Wherever many may fall on the issue, California’s decision has prompted Kentucky to consider similar changes.

New CHRB regulatory amendment

On June 11, the California Horse Racing Board conducted a virtual meeting with Dr. Gregory Ferraro as its chair. Vice Chair Oscar Gonzales participated, along with Commissioners Dennis Alfieri, Wendy Mitchell, Alex Solis, and Damascus Castellanos. The meeting followed a public commenting period that started in April and ran through the middle of May.

During the meeting, the board approved a regulatory amendment to restrict whip usage in racing and training. The new standard for California is as follows:

  • The jockey may not use the crop more than six times in a race, excluding tapping the horse on the shoulder or showing the crop (in a down position) to the horse.
  • A jockey may not use the crop more than twice in succession without sufficient response time.
  • The proper way to use a crop is underhandedly without the crop rising about the jockey’s shoulders.
  • Riders may only use crops during training when necessary for the safety of the horse and rider.
  • New riding crops will feature shock-absorbing, smooth foam cylinders.
  • No one may use a whip on a horse during morning training or after a race.

Any violations may result in a minimum of a three-day suspension for the rider or a maximum of a $1,000 fine.

The inspiration for the proposal was a trend in many racing jurisdictions to limit the use of riding crops. In California, in particular, the public at large has taken a special interest in the treatment of racehorses, especially due to the growing number of fatalities at Santa Anita Park in 2019. Beyond public perception, many felt that limiting horse strikes and the locations of those strikes would contribute to a more humane treatment of horses.

The previous rule in place – Rule 1688 – forbade using a riding crop on a horse’s head, flanks, or other part of the body other than shoulders and hindquarters. Riders were also supposed to restrict whips to three times in succession as a maximum, and stop its use if the horse exhibited any welts or breaks in the skin.

Comments and reactions to CHRB rule

The California Horse Racing Board approved the amendment by a 4-2 vote. Those objecting to the rule were Solis (a retired Hall of Fame jockey) and Alfieri.

Ferraro was the leader in pushing the vote forward, despite several representatives from the Jockeys’ Guild requesting more time before a vote. They wanted to see if a national rule on whip standards could be implemented instead of putting California in the spotlight. Ferraro wanted that spotlight, however, by setting that standard.

During the meeting, according to the Associated Press, Ferraro made his position clear: “This board has a mandate from the governor to make reforms in racing that contribute to the welfare of the horse. We’ve been talking about this crop rule for two years. I think it’s time to stop procrastinating and pass a rule.”

Jockeys’ Guild attorney Shane Gusman expressed the organization’s concern that the rule may not be feasible. Further, jockeys are concerned that they will be unable to perform their jobs.

Ferraro’s response was that those concerns were not comparable to the public image of racing, the demand “that we quit hitting these horses.”

California officials must still approve the rule, so it could be well into the fall months before it becomes effective.

Kentucky close to following suit

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission held its own virtual meeting this week, one with a variety of agenda items. Its rules and safety/welfare committees voted unanimously to approve new language regarding whips.

Unlike in California, however, the proposal in Kentucky was a compromise reached by Kentucky officials, the Jockeys’ Guild, and the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. The latter wanted to limit overhanded strikes to five per stretch and restrict underhanded strikes to the start of a race.

According to the Paulick Report, the Jockeys’ Guild representatives opposed those standards in favor of less stringent, national rules that could then be adopted by willing states.

The final proposal increased the overhand strike limit to six and allowed riders three sets of two hits each in the stretch. In addition, penalties for whip violations increased, especially during graded stakes races. Penalties will accumulate in six-month periods and vary by the number of violations per rider and the number of strikes over the new standard. Jockeys can lose up to 30% of their earnings for their first violation and up to 100% for numerous offenses.


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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer Newell is a freelance writer living in her hometown of St. Louis after stints in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. She has written about poker for more than 15 years but added other forms of gambling and horse racing to her repertoire in the last few years. She grew up with a love for horse racing from her now-late father, who loved to play the ponies. Jennifer can be found on Twitter at @writerjen.

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