Jockeys seriously considering strike action over racing’s controversial new whip rules
THEY say Christmas is the time of giving.
But for race bosses, it could be the season when they have to give in to jockeys’ demands.
Those wisps in the air of weigh rooms across the country aren’t unwashed jockstraps (gross).
No, it’s the scent of full-blown rebellion and they’re ready to walk the talk.
For the past week, drivers have expressed their concerns about the new whip rules, which are due to come into force early next year.
After a careful review of the “Pro-Cush” led by BHA, it was decided that it could only be used in the backhand position going forward.
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Any violation of the rules will result in heavier penalties and if a jockey exceeds the stroke limit more than a few times this may result in disqualification.
Case in point – if this penalty structure had been in place in April, Sam Waley-Cohen and Noble Yeats would have lost the Grand National and the huge chunk of wonga that came with it.
The new rules were announced over the summer but it seems to have only just dawned on jockeys just how massive these changes will be.
Many have been warned with horror in recent weeks that under the current rules a minor breach that would result in a brief suspension or fine would in future be punished with a much harsher penalty.
Riders have called for immediate talks, with a four-week familiarization period of the new rules to begin on January 9 over jumps and late February on the flat.
For the first time since 2011 – the last time the whip rules were changed – a jockey strike is a real threat.
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A crisis was narrowly avoided then, just as it was in Scandinavia in April this year when the jockeys announced they were pulling out over new whip rules.
But I’ve been told dissatisfaction runs as high as Ryan Moore’s, who is said to be disillusioned with the new rules and the sport’s travel direction.
No one is better qualified to have a say on this issue, and if he were to call for action, he would have Libra’s full support.
His boss and legendary trainer, Aidan O’Brien, has even felt the need to stand up for the jockeys.
One elderly flat-jockey, who asked not to be named because he said the issue was “more than a little bit sensitive,” told me, “If they don’t listen to us, it’s going to cause big problems.
“A lot of the jockeys who have been riding for years have not been consulted and the changes don’t make sense to me.
“It’s hitting a lot of us now, especially when stewards show us replays of our rides and tell us we’d be facing a serious suspension under the new rules.
“I feel sorry for the lads who drive at Cheltenham, especially those who come from Ireland where they don’t have any of those rules. Many of them will get into trouble.
“Jockeys have raced whip in forehand all their careers and there’s going to be a lot of teething troubles if you ask them to scrap that.
“It feels to me like this could end in a strike.”
A weigh room strike would be an absolute catastrophe for racing in this country and we could desperately do without this negative press.
I don’t really have a problem with tighter bans and the threat of getting DQ’s. But the backhand rule is a strange one.
It’s often said that “public perception” is the reason for all this upheaval, but the majority of people who watch and enjoy racing don’t care.
This culture of fear and self-doubt emerged within sport – we became afraid of our own shadow.
I hope the BHA bigwigs can sit down with the athletes and settle this once and for all.
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