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Just when all the problems and controversy about the use of the whip in horse racing appeared to have died down, along comes the Apprentice Training Series Handicap set of races. The first of the 12 races took place at Windsor yesterday and led to suspensions for Jacob Butterfield and Ian Burns, the riders of the first two home.
A special set of rules applies for this series of races, allowing jockeys only to wave the whip or use it in the backhand position. Now I’m all in favour of apprentices learning their trade in the proper way, and part of that is to put on races specifically for them.
But I can’t see the point myself of introducing a different set of rules governing the use of one of the tools of the trade. I can’t imagine a trainee chef having a set of knives he can only use with a safety guard, or a learner driver not being allowed to overtake. You are only learning part of the job.
The two riders were separated by just half a length at the line, but were a good two lengths clear of the remainder. Both Gracie’s Games (winner) and Dancing Welcome were well suited by the ground, and the latter came in to the race having been raised six pounds for a heavy ground success at Nottingham. So there’s an argument for them having the best form and conditions to suit. In which case, what was the need for such use of the whip? Or did it, in fact, provide the encouragement needed to head off their rivals?
Either way, the suspension of winning jockey Butterfield was at least in part deserved. He received a total of 16 days after riding his first winner in almost six months on Gracie’s Games. That comprised two separate offences, with seven days’ suspension for using the whip in the forehand position (ie contravening the specific rules of this series), and nine days for hitting his mount more often than is allowed (ie contravening rules that apply to all jockeys in every race).
Ian Burns, who partnered runner-up Dancing Welcome, also used his whip in the forehand position, for which he was stood down for seven days.
But surely the lesson of this first race in the series is that asking young jockeys to ride to one set of rules in some races and a different set in others is not a sensible way of learning the job properly.