On the Rails
with Alan Aitken
If the impossibility of rule harmonisation regarding protests, brought up in this space last week, was not enough to show that thinking in France is left field then the president of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) has gone out of his way to settle any argument.
Of course, whip rules have been a hot potato in Australian racing during the past seven months since they were introduced for the first time to appease a noisy minority of wowsers wowserising about 50kg jockeys using whips on 500kg animals.
During the Asian Racing Federation conference last week in Sydney, IFHA president Louis Romanet suggested the world should take its cue regarding whip rules for jockeys from ... you know, there should be a write in, phone in or email competition attached to this, with a super prize for anyone who guesses which racing jurisdiction he named. The prize will be safe.
So Romanet's comment led us to investigate the quiet behemoth of racing in, yes, Norway, where there is one gallop track operating once a week in Oslo, apparently one horse stud and the jockey club seems to be run out of a post office box.
A country of 4.8 million, who bet around HK$5.2 billion on 4,932 races in 2008 - the most recent figures we could find - is all sound enough until the details reveal that only 280 of those races were gallops.
Our schoolboy Norwegian was a bit rusty and navigation around the official site somewhat awkward, though there seems to be a chip on the shoulder of Norwegian racing, vis a vis big brother trotting, as we encountered this under advice to new punters: 'Playing on the gallop may seem more fair than the trot, the horses are not disqualified for galloping and it is rare that a horse is locked in by competitors.'
In 2009, Wido Neuroth was the champion trainer in a canter, while champion jockey for the fourth time was Espen Ski, who now sits equal second behind Ole Svartshoel as the active Norwegian with the most titles, though behind Janos Tandari's eight-win all-time record. Stop me if you already know all this.
There were seven hurdle races last year and Josephine Kelly won four of them on the one horse, so there is a vibrant jumping scene as well.
The Group Three Marit Sveaas Memorial is the most valuable race, with HK$1.4 million to the winning owner and the Derby this year will fall on August 22, if you happen to be there - the 'Hatteparaden' appears to be the highlight.
Doubtless none of this is new, dear reader.
But you have to hand it to the people putting the NorskJockeyklub website together. They must know all about the superiority of their whip rules since last week as it is the only thing in English language on the entire site.
And to boil it down, there are no whips permitted except in juvenile, qualifying and hurdle events - we're not sure what percentage of the 280 events they make up - and riders have to have both hands on the reins at all times and the whip can be used only on the shoulder and neck, and only then when there's a safety issue with a horse hanging in or out.
Oddly enough, jockeys aren't permitted to pull the whip through from one side to the other in the final 200m, when one might have thought it useful.
So there you have it, according to the president of the world's official ruling body on horse racing, the model for all racing countries.
Is anyone actually steering this ship? What would anyone say if Australia was named as the model to follow for international rules in curling or cross-country skiing?