Nicky Henderson believes it was “inevitable” things would change following the British Horseracing Authority’s whip review and is optimistic it will “ensure a level playing field” moving forward.
On Tuesday the BHA announced 20 recommendations from the Whip Consultation Steering Group which include significant changes to the penalties received by riders who contravene the rules – which may involve disqualification for the most serious breaches, and the whip to be used in the backhand position only.
The Seven Barrows handler, who has held a training licence since 1978 and seen a magnitude of changes in his 44 years in the training ranks, is keen to see how the jockeys will adapt to the new legislation.
Henderson is also sure he would have increased his tally of 72 Cheltenham Festival winners if the new regulations were in place in 2018 when Might Bite finished second to Native River in the Gold Cup and winning rider Richard Johnson was suspended for 7 days and fined £6,550 for using his whip above the permitted level from approaching the second last fence.
“That is a classic example. We were never bothered at the time, but it is an example of a result which would have been overturned in our favour,” said Henderson. “At least now though everyone knows that is not going to happen again, which is a good thing and I think the perception is correct.
“I think the disqualification part was inevitable sooner or later as it is the only deterrent that will ensure a level playing field, so it is something we have to accept and it will level the pitch, there is no doubt about that.
“We’ve got to be wise to what the public perception of all this is and it will be interesting to see how the jockeys are going to adjust in terms of only using the backhand position. I didn’t see that one coming. I could see the disqualification bit coming, but I didn’t anticipate the banning of using the whip in the forehand position.
“There is no doubt that you cannot hit a horse as hard in the backhand as you can in the forehand, so it makes sense and the jockeys are going to have to adapt. It shouldn’t be too difficult as they know they can’t turn it round, simple as that, but I have no doubt it’ll take some getting used to.
“They do a lot of work on these Equicizers (mechanical horses) and I think everyone will be dashing out to get one so they can practice. The great art used to be the way you turned the whip round from backhand to forehand and that is where a lot of finesse came in to race riding, from those who could do it quickly and easily to those who found it difficult.
“So I suggest the poor old Equicizer is going to get a few bashes, but we’ll have to see how it goes. A lot of hard work and thought has gone into it and it was essential to be fair, so we’ve got to implement it now and get everyone used to it.”
Fellow jumps trainer Henry Daly was a member of the member of the Whip Consultation Steering Group and spoke of the year-long process the 15-strong panel went through to establish the priority recommendations.
He said: “As would be expected, developing consensus on the new rules was quite a challenge, especially when there was such a broad range of perspectives to consider. I feel that a sensible outcome has been reached, and our sport will be better for the work that has gone into this important project.
“I have no doubt that the step to introduce disqualification for the most egregious offences will be a significant talking point. However, my sincere hope is that it is a rule that we simply never need to see enforced. The deterrent is so great as it impacts not only the jockeys but also the trainers, owners and stable staff, and I am hopeful therefore that riders will fall well short of the level required to trigger disqualification.”