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Jockeys weigh in on proposed whipping rules in California

The 144th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 05: Jockey Mike Smith poses for a photo in the winner’s circle atop of Justify #7 after winning the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 5, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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ARCADIA, Calif. -- The California Horse Racing Board has amended proposed changes to rules governing how jockeys may use riding crops in races, while The Jockeys’ Guild continues to press its case that the crops are necessary for control of a racehorse.

Triple Crown-winning jockey Mike Smith told the racing board’s medication, safety and welfare committee Wednesday that riding crops are “a crucial part of our sport.”

The proposed changes that would have severely limited the use of crops were first introduced last month in an effort to address the deaths of nearly two dozen horses in training and racing incidents at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.

While supporting measures that increase horse and rider safety, representatives of The Jockeys’ Guild expressed concern that the racing board was trying to ban crops altogether.

Committee chairman Madeline Auerbach was quick to correct that notion Wednesday.

“No one has suggested that you do without it. You do have to have a whip for safety,” she said. “We are forced, so that we can keep racing alive, to do things to make it acceptable to the general public. What can we do so that the use of the whip does not become the thing that takes the entire industry down?”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is calling for an end to horse racing, has urged changes in the use of whips.

“We’ll do our best to show the people that don’t know who are interested that we love horses and we’re doing all this for the good,” Smith said outside the meeting. “It’s also a sport, so there’s ways to ask a horse to reach its full potential without harming them in any way. That’s what the new riding crops do and that’s what we do.”

The Jockeys’ Guild said retired rider Ramon Dominguez is working to develop a new crop with input from current riders.

The guild said it bought 360 new crops for California jockeys who used them April 12 at Santa Anita with stewards’ approval. Jockeys at Golden State Fields in Northern California, Florida’s Gulfstream Park, Keeneland in Kentucky and in New York also tested the so-called 360GT crop.

“With these new cushion crops we have these days, you’re not hurting a horse regardless if you know how to do it (whip) right or not,” Smith said.

Auerbach said she has noticed jockeys at Santa Anita using crops more responsibly since the spate of deaths at the Arcadia track.

“I’ve seen more judicious riding, more careful riding, less cowboy-type things,” she said.

Cody Jensen, a quarterhorse rider for 25 years, said, “Everybody now understands there’s a price to pay for it.”

The state racing board has narrowed the proposed rules. It would prohibit using a crop on a horse’s head, flanks or any parts of its body other than shoulders or hind quarters. The crop could only be used when necessary to control the horse for its safety or that of the rider.

Any jockey riding in a manner contrary to the rule may be suspended or fined by the stewards and could have the rider’s share of any purse money disqualified if the stewards believe the unauthorized use of the crop caused it to achieve a better finish.

Jockeys aren’t required to ride with crops, and if they don’t fans would be advised over the public address system.

The proposed changes also would apply to exercise riders, who typically work out horses in the mornings.

The vote to limit whips will go to a regulatory agency for a 45-day public comment period. It will have to go before the racing board again before it can become permanent regulation, according to a board spokesman.

The Jockeys’ Guild emphasized its belief that riding crops are “still necessary for encouragement, communication and control.”

Jensen, based at Los Alamitos racetrack in Orange County, urged the committee to “let us police ourselves.”

“Too many riders aren’t properly informed on how to use a whip,” he said. “We should do a better job of enforcing the proper technique to use a tool, and don’t kid yourself, that is a tool and a very well-used tool when used correctly. When used irresponsibly, it can cause a lot of damage.”

Meanwhile, there were no positive tests in the first two weeks of racing at Santa Anita under new rules limiting race-day medication.

Dr. Rick Arthur, equine consultant to the racing board, announced the results, which drew applause from Auerbach.

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, implemented the changes in mid-March.

Arthur said the test results are “fairly impressive given how quickly this was implemented.” He said out-of-competition testing done on horses at Santa Anita also yielded no positives.

Among the changes imposed by The Stronach Group were banning the use of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix and increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDs, joint injections, shockwave therapy and anabolic steroids.