Whips, who needs them? In the end Joao Moreira certainly didn’t when a couple of open hand slaps on the shoulder were enough to get Imperial Seal across the line first.
But with racing as a sport facing the long-term possibility of a total whip ban – something many experts see as inevitable – most jockeys say that the stick should always stay, not necessarily to strike horses, but as a safety device.
Moreira lost his whip at the start of the Kwu Tung Handicap when his horse lurched into the unopened barrier and knocking the persuader from the Brazilian’s left hand.
“Most horses probably wouldn’t have won in that situation,” Moreira said. “But then again, some horses resent the whip, it has the opposite effect, it is all down to the individual.”
In the opening event of the day, Richcity Fortune burst away to win by nearly three lengths under Brett Prebble as the Australian rode his horse out hands and heels, with not a single strike.
So does racing without whips make any difference? One day, and it might be one day soon in some jurisdictions, we might find out.
Driven by the ever-growing sensitivity of the general public and animal rights campaigners, the net is undoubtedly closing in on whip use in racing, resulting in a worldwide trend towards limited the amount of strikes and the way the jockeys can use it.
It is a change that will probably hit Hong Kong and Asia last, where the gambling-orientated masses don’t seem to have the greatest sympathy for the animals competing.
Let’s leave aside arguments over whip rules for another time, except for two observations; how about leaving it to the discretion of stewards, like with other welfare and safety issues, and that limiting the number of times a jockey can hit a horse almost guarantees he or she will hit their horse harder.
Anyway, regardless of whether horses are hit or not, every jockey asked on Sunday was adamant they would want to carry a whip anyway.
They say a whip isn’t just an instrument used to inflict pain – as a less educated onlooker might think – but is used in gentler ways to direct and help maintain a horse’s concentration, particularly with young or wayward horses.
One veteran rider described riding a two-year-old without a whip as “like driving a race car with no brakes,” while one was even more sure of the whip’s safety role.
“The day they ban us carrying a whip is the day I stop going out there,” he said. “A simple tap on a young horse’s shoulder can be enough to prevent an accident.”
The influence of whip as steering device was on show later when Moreira waved his wand in front of the eyes of Beat The Clock to keep the young sprinter going straight.
Beat The Clock had veered away from Moreira’s left hand and, in a lovely piece of skill, the Magic Man had switched whip hands in a stride. Then, rather than hit and risk causing another over-reaction, simply showing the horse the stick was enough to keep the gelding on the straight and narrow.
Thirteen-time champion Douglas Whyte was an interested observer at Saturday’s races and both he and Moreira agreed that young jockeys can at times be overreliant on the whip as a means of encouragement.
If there was some type of whip ban or restriction, the champion pair both said the first beneficiary would be the overall horsemanship of young jockeys.
Interestingly, Moreira and Whyte aren’t noted “strong whip riders”, in fact perhaps the most common criticism hurled over the fence at the pair from the outer at Sha Tin it is that they “don’t hit them hard enough” and lack power in a close finish.
That is harsh critique, as is most of what comes from the demanding fans here, but it is fair to say that both Moreira and Whyte favour finesse and sparing use of the whip over the “windmill action” approach sometimes seen by less skilful riders.
And weak in a finish? Hmm, last time we checked Moreira and Whyte had won 15 of the last 16 jockeys’ championships between them, and that’s in a jurisdiction featuring frequent close finishes and where whip-use rules are on the lenient end of the scale. Whips? Who needs them indeed.