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‘Some level of reform’ likely to whip rules before start of next Flat season

Chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea is anticipating “some level of reform” to the whip rules next spring after the British Horseracing Authority’s public consultation on the issue is completed.

The consultation begins on Thursday as an online questionnaire opens for a period of 10 weeks, with the BHA seeking to gather responses to a number of set questions related to whip rules and penalties, as well as the opportunity to provide more detailed, freeform suggestions or comments.

Respondents will be asked to consider what the rules should allow in terms of permissible use, whether the existing penalty framework provides sufficient deterrent to prevent rule breaches, whether disqualification should be considered as a penalty for rule breaches, whether international rules should be harmonised and whether engagement with the sport would change if the whip rules were changed.

The consultation was announced in February 2020 after the Horse Welfare Board published its five-year strategy for the sport, which recommended the process to examine the use of whips for encouragement in racing, with action “ideally” taken by the end of October 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed implementation of that plan, but with the online questionnaire set to be followed by focus groups and detailed discussions with relevant parties, recommendations will then be determined by the Whip Steering Group and undergo further engagement before being presented to the BHA board for consideration and approval in early 2022.

Dunshea underlined any rule changes would be given a “bedding-in period”, but would expect any amendments to be implemented “before the start of the Flat turf season” next year.

He said: “The HWB itself recommended that as a minimum penalties should increase and the industry members’ committee and BHA board all endorsed the recommendations of the report, so I think on that basis whilst nothing has been pre-determined, no decisions have been made and no options are off the table, I think it would be a reasonable expectation there would be some level of reform as a consequence of this process.”

People can respond either as individuals and/or to submit the views of collective groups, organisations or bodies, although Dunshea quelled any suggestion of possible manipulation of the results by groups with a vested interest as an “external insight company” has been engaged to help analyse and interpret the data.

The BHA's chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea
The BHA’s chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He explained: “We are of course alive to the fact internet surveys can be influenced by organised groups of individuals who may attempt to skew the numbers, but our third-party external firm is very experienced at understanding and analysing information as it comes in and this sort of thing is something we can easily identify through the process.”

In a media briefing, Dunshea pointed out the HWB recommendation was to examine the penalty structure around rule breaches rather than a “referendum” on use of the whip.

He added: “I want to emphasise, this is not a polarised yes/no debate or vote or referendum on whether the whip stays or goes. That’s really important to note. The responses are a guide that will be considered by the steering group. Ultimately it’s a decision for racing to make.”

Julie Harrington, chief executive of the BHA, believes the consultation offers the opportunity to “facilitate a positive, open debate” on the issue of the whip.

She said: “At a time when societal and political views are constantly changing, the future health of our sport will depend in part on the maintenance of social licence and the trust that the public and politicians have in us.

“The racing industry must be willing to listen to and understand a range of perspectives if it is to prosper and safeguard its long-term future.

“Moreover, we must have rules and a penalty structure which are viewed as fair to participants and the betting public, which encourage riding within the rules and which deter rule breaches.

“By carrying out this consultation we are looking to signal and facilitate a positive, open debate about this important issue for our sport from the viewpoint of perception and fairness. We encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to take part in the consultation. This is your opportunity to be heard.”

Leading racing figures form part of whip consultation group

Leading trainer John Gosden plus jockeys Tom Scudamore and PJ McDonald will form part of the Whip Consultation Steering Group which will take an active role in the upcoming public consultation on the issue.

The group draws on individuals from a wide range of backgrounds across the racing industry as well as representation from wider sectors including politics, horse welfare and the media.

Former racecourse stewards’ panel chair, racecourse committee member and racehorse owner David Jones, who is also an independent regulatory director on the board of the British Horseracing Authority, will chair the group.

The consultation aims to gather and assess the viewpoints of industry participants, non-industry stakeholders and wider public audiences, regarding rules, usage and penalties related to the whip.

The future of the whip in racing is to come under the microscope
The future of the whip in racing is to come under the microscope (David Davies/PA)

Other members of the group include trainer Henry Daly, Sir Michael Stoute’s head lad/assistant James Savage, broadcaster Nick Luck and Aintree clerk of the course Sulekha Varma.

The Steering Group held its first meeting last week and will now work towards finalising an agreed timescale for the consultation process, which is currently planned to run in the second half of this year.

Jones said: “It is essential that the consultation process is fair, open and transparent and the views of all parties are considered.

“In addition, any decisions must be made by those who have a deep understanding and knowledge of the subject matter and who are willing to both represent and consider a range of perspectives.”

Brant Dunshea, chief regulatory officer for the BHA, said: “The whips used in British racing are foam-padded and were designed with input from the RSPCA. Its use in races is subject to strict controls.

“The Horse Welfare Board were clear, however, that the use of the whip is an issue of public trust in the sport, and that the racing industry must be mindful of public opinion if it is to safeguard its long-term future.”