A week or so back, there was talk of a jockeysâ€™ strike. The likelihood of this taking place has now receded, to be replaced by a rolling series of actions targeting individual races or meetings. First in line is the meeting at Towcester on Thursday next week. This has been chosen because the track has actively considered imposing a complete whip ban, following a survey of race goers there. The BHA turned down Towcesterâ€™s request to apply a â€œhands and heels onlyâ€ approach at its last meeting.
This led to a refusal from jockeys to carry out any pre or post race interviews, but general manager Kevin Ackerman re-affirmed that he thought the way forward was to run races without the use of the whip as this would attract more spectators to the sport. â€œWhat we are going to do is to reapply to the BHA. We still have an aspiration to race under hands and heels and conduct a pilot to understand the effects and see if more people are encouraged to come to the racecourse.â€
Jockeys are considering whether to deliberately void a race there, most likely a small field handicap chase, by all using the permitted eight strokes of the whip and then pulling up their mount. Yet such an approach runs the risk of conflict with owners and trainers, and would surely carry the risk of action by the stewards.
Amongst other action jockeys are considering is not to take part in the races that are being televised one Saturday afternoon, though how many would actually spurn a Paddy Power Gold Cup or a Betfair Chase remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, the first sign of real discontent from owners appeared yesterday, when Wayne Mills, part owner of The Cockney Mackem entered the fray. Millsâ€™ horse was beaten by a nose on Saturday by Ruby Walsh and Edgardo Sol in the race in which Walsh sustained a five-day ban. Mills questioned whether it was right for the winning horse to keep the race if the jockey is suspended for breaking the rules.
â€œIâ€™m not having a go at Ruby, but as an owner whose horse has been beaten by a jockey who has broken the rules I donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair. Edgardo Sol got the benefit of the extra hit and that has won him the race. If the extra hit causes one horse to beat another they should demote the horse to second.â€ Thereâ€™s much to be said for finding an application that does not penalise anyone who has followed the rules, and without it, you can see other owners taking the action Mills says he is now looking at.
â€œWe are now seriously considering our future as racehorse owners. Over the past 20 years both myself and my father have invested millions of pounds in the industry. We have owned in excess of 50 horses and have never seen one of our horses marked or distressed through the use of the whip.â€