The "persuader"

Whip bans and Careless Riding figures for January 2012, compared against the same month last year, show a mixed picture, though one which gives little comfort to those who hold fast to the idea that the BHA can afford simply to leave matters as they are. You can download a spreadsheet with full breakdown of the figures, but here are the headline stats:

Last month saw a total of 55 bans for whipping offences, with 322 days of bans handed out to jockeys. This compares against 60 offences (including cautions) for the same month last year – a fall of 8.3% – during which 103 days of bans were given – a rise of 212.6%. So although the number of offences is down, the total of bans has risen by an even larger percentage than was seen in December.

The number of offences on the All Weather Flat rose slightly (27 in 2012, from 26 in 2011) whilst the number of bans catapulted from 34 days up to 152a rise of 347.0%. There was a noticeable fall however in National Hunt offences (28 in 2012, 34 in 2011) although the number of bans was up from 69 to 170a rise of 146.4%.

One stat headlined by BHA has been the comparative reduction in the number of Careless/Dangerous riding offences since the new rules were introduced. Yet although January 2012 did indeed see a small reduction in such offences from 43 to 39, there were fewer cautions given out, and the number of bans given for careless riding was up by 21 days, from 53 to 74 – a rise of 39.6%. In other words, there’ve been slightly fewer but significantly more serious offences: not a stat which BHA can wield, even if a correlation between the draconian new whip penalties and careless riding could be demonstrated (which there’s no reason to believe is the case).

The evidence once again points to an uncomfortable truth. Unless BHA act swiftly to cauterise the bleeding, bad “public perception” and media coverage of the whip issue remains likely to overshadow showcase meetings such as the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.

There is still time for BHA to act, but only just. It’s clear a major relaxation in the number of strokes allowed, in both codes, and a more intelligent use of “Stewards’ Discretion”, are the only answer if British Racing wants to see the number of bans for whip use fall back to parity even with the “old rules” (bad though they were). And if the tedious “debate” is to be put to bed, allowing BHA’s energies to be focussed on more important matters, a return to sensible “guidelines” rather than inflexible “rules” really is the only way to move forward.

That, at least, is clear from the January 2012 stats.