Minority whipping up storm

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 February, 1993, 12:00am

THE most sweeping change to riding styles in Britain is set to take place if proposals concerning the use of the whip in races are passed by the stewards of the English Jockey Club when they meet here tomorrow.

A working party, specially set up to examine this highly controversial issue, are proposing that a Flat jockey should be permitted to hit a horse only five times during a race, and that a National Hunt rider should be allowed to hit his mount no more thanfive times from the second last obstacle. At present, they are permitted 10 smacks with the whip.

In Hongkong, the punters would consider it some sort of plot to deprive them of the DT or DQ - while many of the old rogues who masquerade as racehorses would have a chuckle or two to themselves. In Australia, such stringent whip regulations would be considered both laughable and intolerable. But in Britain, this is all deadly serious. Here is a nation of animal lovers, whose reaction to a whip-wielding jockey in a pulsating finish is one of total horror and disbelief.

The new whip guidelines are racing's attempt at appeasing the non-racing critics, whose voice appears to have been stronger than any pro-racing elements, who might know something about the game. It has been the televising of racing to mass audiences, manyof them once-a-year viewers, that has brought the whip issue to the notice of racing's rulers.

Also, the active campaigning of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals has been most effective; so much so that some racing wags have already been snidely asking why a seat has not been found on the new British Horseracing Board to accommodate the Society and its followers. In the past week, leading jockeys have all had their say on the matter. There has not been once voice praising the new proposals; most have been hostile in their reactions.

Peter Scudamore, the current champion over jumps, has publicly criticised the the new guidelines and has been arguing that rather than introducing a reduction in the number of strokes permitted, officials should be looking to develop a new, lighter whip. Richard Dunwoody has publicly stated that it will destroy the art of race-riding as it is known today, while Grand National-winning jockey Carl Llewellyn says it will reduce jockeys to virtual robots on horseback.

Michael Caulfield, the secretary of the Jockeys' Association, is right when he says the changes are being made basically for an ill-educated minority of the viewing public. ''The simplistic decision was taken to display to the small minority that changes were being made, which is probably the worst reason for changing an instruction at all,'' Caulfield said.

''However well-intentioned the Jockey Club recommendations may be, they would sound the starting bell for the rapid decline of English racing. ''We can still claim to have the most competitive racing in the world, but for how much longer? There is time totalk, there is no rush,'' Caulfield added.

I feel racing has bent over backwards trying to clean up its image to outsiders. But there comes a time when racing has to point out a thing or two to those who know nothing about the racing industry and those in it. That time has arrived. Meanwhile, if anybody sees Mick Dittman on their travels, tell him to leave his whip at home on the Gold Coast.