What HISA says about whip rules

Rules restricting the use of the riding crop are a relatively new development in Thoroughbred racing, but up until now, violations have been between the rider, his or her wallet, and the stewards.

That’s about to change, though. With the first set of Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) rules set for launch, whip rules become something owners and trainers will need to pay attention to, as well.

Jockeys will have until August 1 to secure HISA-compliant riding crops – the one-month delay in the requirement implemented because of supply chain concerns – but the rules on the use of the crop take effect July 1.

And if a crop rule violation is severe enough, not only will the jockey incur a penalty, but the owner will also: more severe violations incur loss of purse.

The new rules on use of the crop are similar to those already in place in some Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions. The goals of the rules are to limit excessive use of the riding crop while still permitting riders to employ the stick to promote safety and attain their best possible placing.

And, yes, to placate a public that may not understand crop use at all.

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During a race, riders will be limited to no more than six strikes of the whip on the horse’s hindquarters, with no more than two permitted in succession. After each pair of strikes, a rider must wait at least two strides to give the horse an opportunity to respond.

Jockeys may also tap the horse’s shoulder with the crop, or show it to the horse, as a means of ensuring the horse’s best effort and for safety purposes.

Riders may not raise their wrists above their helmets prior to striking a horse, nor may they hit the horse anywhere other than the shoulder or hindquarters.

It’s in the penalties where the new rules will differ from the old. The new regime is more severe and contains added punishments for cumulative violations.

If a rider strikes the horse one to three times more than the six permitted – so, seven to nine total strikes – then he or she will be fined $250 or 10% of his or her earnings that race, whichever is greater. He’ll also be suspended one or more days and receive three cumulative violation points.

At four to nine strikes over the limit – 10 to 15 total strikes – the fine goes up to $500, the suspension is increased to three days, and the rider gets five cumulative violation points.

And: the horse is disqualified from purse earnings, which will be sure to make many an owner unhappy.

At 10 or more strikes beyond the six-strike limit, the jockey will pay a $750 fine, receive a five-day suspension, and get 10 points on his or her record. The horse will be disqualified from purse earnings.

The points do expire – after six months in the case of least severe violation, nine months in the mid-range, and a year in the most severe – but if riders accumulate 11-15 unexpired points, they will receive a seven-day suspension. At 16-20 points, the suspension increases to 15 days, and beyond 20, the jockey will sit for 30 days.

At a recent Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association meeting, a HISA representative said that some jockeys expressed concern that a rule without a DQ provision would unfairly expose them to pressure from horsemen believing a horse might have won with a couple of extra taps.

Not everyone is in favor of these rules.

“You’re cheating the owners, and you’re cheating the public,” Maryland-based trainer Jose Corrales told the MTHA meeting.

One important challenge will be achieving consistency across jurisdictions. Under the current system, where each state sets and enforces its own rules, even similar rules often are interpreted and enforced differently.

For example, during the first five months of 2022, Maryland’s stewards had slapped riders with whip violation rulings 11 times – the same number of times that stewards at Delaware Park imposed whip violation rulings in just the first month of the meet.

Meanwhile those at Charles Town had done so just twice in five months.