The RSPCA will ramp up its lobbying of Racing Australia to follow harness racing’s lead and ensure “the future of racing is without a whip”, but has conceded jockeys should still be able to carry a safety mechanism in the form of a riding crop.
As speculation mounts about the place of the whip in thoroughbred racing after its trotting cousins announced a ban on its use in the code from next September, the RSPCA won’t campaign for the device to be taken away from a jockey and his or her ability to control an unruly horse.
RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil has reached out to Racing Australia chairman John Messara in the wake of harness racing’s historic announcement last weekend and plans to take up the issue with incoming chief executive Barry O’Farrell, who starts in January.
But Neil said the RSPCA had no intention of endorsing a blanket ban on the devices, stressing jockeys should still be able to carry whips in races under its proposal but not be allowed to strike a horse to enhance performance.
“We have absolutely no issue about jockeys carrying whips if they feel it is important for their safety,” Neil told Fairfax Media.
“The conversations they have in the industry about the jockeys needing a mechanism from a safety perspective … we’ve never said jockeys shouldn’t carry a whip. What we’re concerned about is just its routine use.
“The safety of horses and the safety of jockeys is extremely important. There won’t be a sport if you don’t look after both. If there is a view that helps with safety [like carrying a whip] we don’t have any issue with that at all.”
Racing Australia is crafting the finer details of a minor amendment to the whip policy after a review chaired by one of the country’s former leading stewards Des Gleeson, but horse racing will in the interim at least resist calls to abandon the persuader altogether.
The RSPCA tabled a submission to the Racing Australia review and has previously lobbied individual race clubs to trial whip-free racing, which has had resistance from principal racing authorities.
It might have a sympathetic ear in O’Farrell, who has previously served as a patron of the RSPCA’s NSW branch. The position was an honorary one during his time as state premier.
“The future of racing is without a whip – it’s just a matter of how long it takes to get there,” Neil said. “The ground shifted on Saturday morning and it will be difficult for thoroughbred racing in the long term to maintain the stance they do have because clearly another racing code has come to a different conclusion.
“When you make these decisions voluntarily you get the most control into how you do that. Harness racing have set a path for themselves and set a benchmark for racing of all codes.”
But the Australian Jockeys Association has likened comparing the use of whips in harness racing and horse racing as “apples and oranges”.
One of the country’s most astute riders Craig Williams has led the chorus of calls for the retention of the whip as a safety measure.
Meanwhile, a proposal put together by the Gosford Race Club and Racing NSW will mean the continuation of training “indefinitely” at the Central Coast track beyond next year.
“The NSW Trainers Association would like to thank Peter V’landys for listening to our representations and taking such decisive action to reverse this decision within 12 months,” NSWTA boss Glenn Burge said.
“We now look forward to working with Gosford to boost training numbers and make it an attractive place for trainers to be.”
Gosford chief executive Daniel Lacey added: “Racing NSW has been extremely supportive of our trainers and has recognised the importance of Gosford not only in its current form but also for future expansion.”
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