Racing fears jockey bans at Cheltenham

The next five weeks should be the most exciting of the British jumps season as racing builds to the most important four days of the season at the .

But there are fears the sport will be hit by a spate of badly timed headlines as the BHA roll out a new set of rules on how the whip — the most contentious issue in racing — is used.

The changes, which come into force on Monday (and next month on the Flat), include the potential for a horse to be disqualified if a jockey goes four strikes pop over to this site the new permitted limit of six strokes of the whip on the Flat and seven over jumps.

During the past five weeks they have been rolled out during a bedding-in period when jockeys were told what penalties they would incur.

The period could be best described as fractious.Some senior figures including Gordon Elliott, Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins — fierce competitors on the track — united in calling for the introduction to be put back until after the Cheltenham Festival. 

Senior figures such as Gordon Elliott have called for the introduction of the new rules to be put back

Sean Quinlan claimed he was told he would have been handed 51 days worth of bans

Mullins said the sport was ‘shooting itself in the foot’ with the timing and there is concern how Irish jockeys riding at the Festival — encountering the rules for the first time despite having to complete an online training module — might fall foul of the new regime and its more severe penalties.

The BHA remain adamant that their timing is right.A spokesman said: ‘It is at the major Festivals when these rules are most required. They are the sport’s shop window and also the races where the incentive to break the rules is greatest.

‘The main change as far as riders are concerned is the reduction in thresholds for use.For most jockeys this does not involve a substantial change in riding style.’

Proposals to restrict use of the whip to a backhand grip have been dropped but one of the most contentious changes has been how the banned use of the whip above shoulder height is policed.Jockey Sean Quinlan claimed he had been told he would have been hit with 51 days worth of bans during one week of the bedding-in period.

The jockeys argued that different camera angles can be misleading, as could be the use of still images, and the Whip Review Committee will now judge a ride in real time after the BHA said it had ‘marginally adjusted the way penalties are calculated’.

The decision to introduce potential disqualification to British racing’s whip rules has also split opinion.

Some argue no jockeys will break the rules knowing they could lose the prize, especially in a big race such as The Derby. 

Twenty-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy said that disqualification should even be imposed for going one strike over the permitted level to make the rules ‘unbreakable’.But others believe the inevitable outcome will be more whip-watching, with even more attention on a rider’s use of the whip.

Under the new system all penalties are handed out weekly by the Whip Review Committee and not the race-day stewards.

That throws up the possibility that the winner of a major race — even the Cheltenham Gold Cup or Grand National — could have to go through the presentation ceremony while TV pundits are discussing their inevitable disqualification. 

The option of disqualification on the day was considered too unpalatable for the betting public and would have cost British racing the millions it earns from betting deals abroad.

Whip reform is taking place around the world and the BHA say changes must be made.

Jump jockey David Bass, the Jumps president of the Professional Jockeys’ Association, said his colleagues have been trying their best to adapt to the changes.

‘The ones who have had a few issues are really working on it.We are desperate for this to go right,’ he said. ‘There is a fear there could be bans in the short term and everyone will think it is a complete disaster if there are. But in the longer term I think we are going to get it right. ‘

Paul Nicholls is among others that have called for a delay in the introduction of the rules

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