Pippa Passes (Browning)

I’m not sure how familiar with Robert Browning apologists of the BHA’s new and revised Whip Rules might be, but they have at least something in common with Pippa, the heroine of his long narrative poem Pippa Passes. She’s a sunny, ever-smiling juvenile with the good attitude: despite the murders, suicides and bankruptcies blossoming around her she’s still able to skip and sing along, to her perpetually irritating refrain: “God’s in his Heaven, All’s right with the World!”

Now, the Pippas of British Racing tell us that The Whip is fast becoming a non-issue. They come out with sunny statements to the effect that it’s clear that jockeys have, “by and large, adapted to the new rules”. They claim that now “initial glitches” have been ironed out the rules are working perfectly well and (to quote the ever-optimistic David Cormack of The Racing Forum) “provide racing that is every bit as interesting, absorbing and exciting while allowing for safer racing for both horse and jockey.” [Safer? Why??]

Well Pippa, let’s look at some facts, shall we?

In December 2010 jockeys received 50 days bans for whip offences, 44 on the flat and 6 over jumps. The number of offences (including cautions) was 26: 21 on the flat and 5 over jumps.

* In December 2011 jockeys received 214 days bans for whip offences, 127 on the flat and 87 over jumps. The number of offences was 51: 29 on the flat and 22 over jumps.

This represents a massive rise both in the number of offences (196%) and the number of employment days lost to the profession (428%). But interpreters need to bear in mind the huge number of National Hunt race meetings lost to bad weather during December 2010, and it is a much fairer gauge to look at the data from the all-weather flat. And on the flat, offences are up 38%, whilst the number of employment days lost has risen by a staggering 288%, in line with the rises recorded in October and November. There is no “adapting” and no “ironing out”.

I hope that will give our BHA Pippas pause for thought. Many of the penalised rides under both codes, but especially over jumps, have been praised as excellent by commentators and pundits – not least Timmy Murphy‘s beautiful display of horsemanship at Haydock on December 30th to get Tamarin Bleu home first, only to receive a four day ban for his pains.

An online survey of Racing Post online readers last weekend (January 7/8) showed 81% believed that the new rules were adversely affecting racing, whilst only 19% thought otherwise. Meanwhile the Animal Aiders and Whip Ban Brigade continue to make hay with these appalling figures.

Remember that these whip rules were not brought in by BHA for welfare reasons, but to “change the culture” and improve public perception by demonstrating a reduction in the number of bans. Instead we’ve all become whip stroke counters, and the finishes of many races look worse than ever, with ugly hands-and-heels cajoling added to the sight of harder whip strokes in the final furlong as jockeys do their best to ride to full quota and be seen to try their hardest.

Maurice Linehan

A thought then for poor Maurice Linehan (Chepstow, December 27th), who got 5 days for whipping Palace Jester too frequently and a further 10 days for not riding the horse out to the finish when dead-heating in the same race. Anyone who sees any evidence here to encourage BHA to leave this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs untouched might indeed consider reaching for their Brownings (poet not pistols). Because, as with poor little Pippa, it will all end in tears unless radical changes are made to this foolish and unworkable frequency rule, and made soon.