Dominic Elsworth's unsuccessful appeal yesterday against his seven-day whip ban incurred when riding Loch Ba into second place at Sandown at the beginning of the month revealed a new twist in the whip rules saga. His solicitor, Rory MacNeice, revealed that the Bloody Hopeless Amateurs (BHA) had produced further guidance, but had circulated it to just a small group of stewards.
The BHA issued the document headed "Use of the whip – discretion" on 11 November, but rather than ensuring jockeys were made aware of the advice contained, they kept it strictly in-house. The paper was issued only to the small group of stipendiary stewards, one of whom heads up the stewards’ panel at each meeting, and who are themselves employees of the BHA. This means that until MacNeice referred to it in yesterday's hearing, two of the three stewards officiating at any race meeting would have been unaware of its existence, and almost certainly do not even now know the precise nature of the guidance it contains.
MacNeice read from the document yesterday, as he argued that five of the 11 uses of the whip Elsworth made on Loch Ba fell within the terms of discretion that stewards can apply. The document says that, "it may be appropriate to ignore isolated hits in the early part of the race," or "hits which are administered following a mistake at a fence."
Of course, the operative phrase here is "may be appropriate" and it is for the stewards to decide whether or not they think that is the case. There's nothing to guide them on the circumstances when they should apply that discretion.
Responding to the call from MacNeice for the document to be published in full and made widely available Robin Mounsey for the BHA said that was unlikely. "The purpose of the discretion guidance document was to provide stipendiary stewards with potential discussion points to raise or consider as they see fit, on a case-by-case basis. The reason for not distributing these notes to the racecourse stewards, or indeed publishing them, is that the discretion which stewards can employ relating to whip offences is intentionally unfettered and we rely on the racecourse stewards’ judgement to reach a decision in each case based solely on the context of the race."
In my view there is very little chance of stipendiary stewards ever raising any discussion points of this nature when their employer, the BHA, has been so dogmatic in its approach to the whole issue of whip use. MacNeice welcomed the guidelines set out in the document but was perturbed by the secrecy around them. "The difficulty is the inexplicable decision by the BHA not to release that document to anyone other than the select few, the stipendiary stewards. I wish that the BHA had been more confident in its approach to regulation."
In Elsworth's case the panel upheld the suspension imposed by the stewards at Sandown that he had used his whip "for the purpose of encouraging the gelding to maintain its position in the race" and not for safety.
He said that he felt he had presented "an ideal case for using discretion", and suggested that it would not be too long before someone sustained a major injury because they had refrained from using the whip. Referring to recent falls suffered by Aidan Coleman and Andrew Glassonbury he said, "My fear is that some of the lads will one day get seriously hurt for fear of giving the horse reminder when they should. I've already seen two cases of lads hitting the deck because this."
If the BHA is to regain the confidence of jockeys and trainers the first step it should take is to ensure there is absolute transparency around all the guidance concerning use of the whip.