Source: The New York Times
By Joseph Dursoa
It has been five months since New York State issued its first rules on the proper use of the riding crop by jockeys, and the question still remains: to whip or not to whip?
"You can use it, but not abuse it," said Jerry Bailey, the leading rider in the country. "I don't like to use the stick too much. You never know how the horse will react. Some of them don't like it. Some resent it. Some stop running.
"You don't want to hurt the horse. So, the rules are clear: You can hit him only on the shoulder and the rump. They're like people. They have less padding on the shoulder, more on the rump. You should wait until he extends to full stride, then flick him once to see how he reacts. But there are no magic spots. It depends entirely on the horse, and they're all different."
But Bailey, who is scheduled to ride Grand Slam in the Travers Stakes Saturday at Saratoga and Skip Away in the Iselin Handicap Sunday at Monmouth Park, speaks analytically about an issue that often involves extremes of passion. And when the New York State Racing and Wagering Board issued its rules on the proper use of the whip last March, the chairman, Michael Hoblock, said:
"I think it's going to change the perception, which often becomes the reality, about the racing industry's treatment toward horses. Now, you can have something to judge the offender."
The question of when the whip is required has one answer for animal-rights activists: never. But for most trainers, jockeys and racing officials, there is a critical distinction between "use" and "abuse" of the riding crop that jockeys carry. And that distinction came under dramatic scrutiny during this year's Triple Crown series, when television cameras focused on the horses and jockeys in stark detail as they dueled down the homestretch.
At the Kentucky Derby in May, a huge crowd of 142,215 at Churchill Downs and millions more on national television watched Kent Desormeaux make liberal use of his whip while riding Real Quiet to victory during a homestretch duel. He did so again while winning the Preakness at Pimlico and finishing second to Victory Gallop by a nose at the Belmont Stakes in June.
When jockeys see a chance to win one of the racing classics as they turn for home, what instinct or technique dictates how often they go to the whip?
"I'll only spank the horse for encouragement," Desormeaux said, "and only if he shows any response. After a mile or so, any horse might be too tired to respond. And when he is tiring, if he is hit, he'll stop. You have to know when your horse won't respond. In the Kentucky Derby last year, Gary Stevens whipped the stuff out of Silver Charm."
And everyone in racing agrees that the whip, like the bit in a horse's mouth, sends messages by pressure or pain.
"Sure, it hurts a horse," said the renowned veterinarian Dr. Alex Harthill of Louisville, Ky. "Repeated whipping should be outlawed. You don't know how a horse will react to the whip. Some respond by running faster. Some stop. I think it's good as a way to get their attention. But I would outlaw repeated whipping."
Bill Boland, who rode Middleground to victory in the Kentucky Derby in 1950 and now serves as a paddock and patrol judge at New York's tracks, thinks back and draws the line.
"When I won the Derby, did I use the whip?" he asked. "Yes. Did I use it excessively? No.
"The rule is clear. It says you can't hit a horse on the head or the flanks or any other part of his body other than the shoulders or hind quarters. And you can't use the whip if the horse is clearly out of the race or has reached his best placing in the race. The rule also bars excessive force -- without defining it."
Perhaps with that in mind, the jockey colony in New York held a series of briefings during the spring and summer as Aqueduct and Belmont on when and where to apply the riding crop.
Every Sunday morning at 11:30, the apprentice riders gathered in their lounge at Belmont and watched films of the week's races, the way professional football players do.
But instead of a coach, the young riders were tutored by the 58-year-old custodian of the jockeys' room, who happened to be one of the great jockeys of racing's past: Braulio Baeza, winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1963 aboard Chateaugay and a man known for his dignified, serene manner of sitting on a horse's back in a sport often marked by physical contact and even violence.
"The stewards began the film meeting," Baeza said. "The riders watch and ask me questions about their technique. I advise them how to ride. Like when and how to use the whip. It changes with each rider.
"They know I was calm when I rode. I wasn't a stick rider. Well, only when it was required."
Other riders were not as restrained. Boland, peering back across the decades, said: "We used to have two riders known as 'stick riders,' Ted Atkinson and Steve Brooks. Both used their sticks repeatedly, almost constantly."
Jockeys tend to develop reputations, the way baseball pitchers do by throwing brushback pitches. Bailey, past president of the Jockeys' Guild, is known as a gentlemen rider who rarely touched the great Cigar. Jorge Chavez, on the other hand, uses his stick so often that his colleagues call him Chop-Chop. Chavez is scheduled to ride Raffie's Majesty in the Travers.
On the West Coast, Corey Nakatani and Chris McCarron are considered more aggressive with the whip. But in California, jockeys tend to ride in closer bunches, making it harder for a horse to break through.
Desormeaux, in general, is regarded as a somewhat gentler jockey who often hand-rides his mounts across the finish line. Stevens, who used his whip relentlessly in last year's Kentucky Derby to arouse Silver Charm, did not lay a hand on another of his star mounts, Gentlemen. In the 1997 Derby, both Stevens and the rider of Captain Bodgit, Alex Solis -- who is replacing the injured Stevens aboard Victory Gallop in the Travers -- hit their horses at least 30 times each in their stretch battle, and some murmuring was heard.
In a much cheaper race three years ago, a claiming race at Santa Anita, in fact, Nakatani rode a favorite who did not win, and he was seen hitting the horse on the neck well past the finish line. He said the horse was lugging out, and the trainer wanted to work the horse more after the race. The case became a cause célèbre in Los Angeles. Nakatani was fined $500 and suspended for five days.
"In Europe," said John Giovanni, a former jockey who now is executive director of the Jockeys' Guild, "you can hit a horse only 10 times. But what happens when you're in the homestretch in the fury of a race? How do you keep count?
"Gary Stevens once was criticized in Great Britain for hitting his horse more than 10 times. Gary said: 'I ride 1,500 races a year. I didn't realize I was over the limit. I'm a humane rider.' And in this year's Kentucky Derby, I saw absolutely no abuse by Kent Desormeaux. He knows the difference between use and abuse."
It was in an attempt to clarify the difference that the New York Racing Board adopted a stricter rule last winter to crack down on abuses. The rule, based on one in force in California, gave the stewards clearer ability to fine or suspend jockeys for excessive whipping.
Under the rule, jockeys are forbidden to hit a horse on the head or flank and cannot use the whip during the post parade or after a race, except to control the horse. Also, whipping is penalized if it causes welts or breaks in the skin, and cannot be used when a horse is "clearly out of the race or has obtained its maximum placing." The rule defines correct use of the whip as showing the horse the whip before hitting him, using the whip in rhythm with the horse's stride and using the whip as an aid to keep a horse running straight.
New York tracks added the stipulation that the whip must be dark in color and should weigh no more than one pound and not be longer than 31 inches, with one popper, or flap, to soften the sting and magnify the sound.
Dr. Ted Hill, the veterinarian and steward for the Jockey Club, reported that the stewards briefed the jockeys on the rule in March. "They wanted us to define the line between excessive use and what the public and trainers expected," he said. "It's a thin line."
John Joyce, the steward representing the Racing Board, added: "In June, we fined Julio Pezua $500 for inappropriate use of the whip. His horse veered wide on the final turn, and Julio tried to steer him back with the whip, but got him on the side of the head a few times."
So, it may be a thin line, but at least it's a line.
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