ARCADIA, Calif. -- California Thoroughbred jockeys will be allowed to use their whips with greater frequency in the last sixteenth of a mile under a proposed rule introduced at Thursday's California Horse Racing Board meeting.
The board voted 4-3 to amend a nearly year-old rule and allow riders to use whips up to four times in succession in the final sixteenth of a mile before pausing to allow their mounts to respond. Current rules state that riders are allowed three strikes during a race before they must pause to allow horses to respond.
Violations have resulted in fines and occasional suspensions since the rule was enacted last July.
The proposed rule will be submitted for a public comment period before being addressed again by the board later this year. Any potential change is unlikely until late this year.
Chairman Chuck Winner was joined by commissioners Madeline Auerbach, Alex Solis, and Richard Rosenberg in approving the rule change. Commissioners George Krikorian, Jesse Choper, and Steve Beneto voted against the change.
Prior to the vote, the issue was the subject of a spirited debate among commissions and racing officials regarding horse and rider safety issues. The proposed rule change originated from discussions with the Jockeys' Guild, according to Winner.
Darrell Haire of the Jockeys' Guild asked the board to approve the change.
"Four times in the last sixteenth of a mile is reasonable," he said. "We're asking for the jockeys to get the most out of their mounts and for the bettors to get a fair chance."
Solis, the only jockey on the racing board, said an expansion to four strikes was reasonable. He cited as an example his ride on Stays in Vegas in the $100,690 Senorita Stakes at Santa Anita on May 7. Solis won the race by a head, and used his whip more than three times in succession in the stretch, resulting in a $200 fine for a second offense in a 60-day period.
"I was in trouble," he said of the fine. "If I wouldn't have hit [her] It would have cost me the winner.
"I think it's a good change. The last sixteenth is when you need more help in using your crop. Horses are getting tired. You're trying to encourage them."
Beneto and Solis engaged in a brief debate about use of the whip. After Solis related the anecdote, Beneto tipped that he was against the rule change.
"Horses are tired and are giving out and we're hitting them with a whip?" he said. "That's cruel."
Solis objected, saying that if his horse is tired he would not use his whip.
"I'm saving it because he's out of a race," he said.
State chief steward Darrel McHargue and Santa Anita-based steward Scott Chaney spoke in favor of keeping the existing rules in place.
"There have been benefits for three strikes as opposed to indiscriminately hitting the horse," McHargue said to the board.
"If a rule is broken, make changes. In my opinion, three strikes has worked well."
Chaney told the racing board that the current rule as "a resounding success" and urged no change.
"We review every race a little more closely," he said. "We like it. It's safer riding and cleaner. From my perspective, it's a better perception. It's complete animal abuse to use the whip more often when they are getting more tired. We'd like to see it decrease.
"It's simple -- are we for more whipping or less whipping? From the stewards' perspective, we are for less whipping."
Auerbach, an active owner and breeder, vehemently challenged Chaney's opinion that abuse took place with excessive whipping.
"Any characterization that we're abusing horses is unfair," she said. "I don't want us to do anything that interferes with the outcome of the race. I don't think any of us have the intent of anything that resembles animal abuse."
Winner reminded Chaney that any signs of abuse by a jockey could be dealt with through other rules.
"If the stewards feel the jockey is abusing the horse, that's your job," he said. "There isn't anyone who wouldn't want you to come down."