New Whip

The New Whip Rules - How They’ve
Changed Australian Horse Racing

Being smart as a whip includes knowing when not to crack it.”  (Vera Nazarian)

New whip rules were introduced for Australian horse racing on December 1st last year and from the outset they have been dogged by controversy. At the Perth racing carnival in December, top jockey Damien Oliver criticised the new rules. He reckoned that the rules would affect some horses' competitiveness in races. Other riders at the carnival complained loud and clear that there had been a lack of consultation over the issue and threatened industrial action.

So what are the rules? In short, regarding whip use, the Australian rules of racing state that a whip may not be used on more than five occasions prior to the 100 metre mark of a race and cannot be used in consecutive strides. In the final 100 metres of a race, a jockey can use the whip at his or her discretion.

The rules restricting the use of whips in races have reportedly led to the increase in the use of spurs by jockeys. There have also been accusations that jockeys have failed to adapt to the new rules - on over a hundred occasions riders in Victoria
have been fined for breaching the rules. Some jockeys have blatantly flouted the new rules and have been tempted to use the whip more times than the rules allow to help get their horses over the line.

The lure of victory, and all that it encompasses, including being able to pocket a larger percentage of the prize money, clearly outweighs the penalty of paltry fines for some jockeys. Never is this truer than in major races with big purses. Take this year’s $1.5 million BMW Stakes at Rosehill in March - the jockeys on the first three horses across the line were all fined or reprimanded by the stewards for excessive use of the whip prior to the 100 metre mark of the race. Hugh Bowman aboard the winner Preferment was fined just $2,000 for breaching the whip rules - yet he pocketed $46,300 (his 5% fee) for his winning ride.  

Another concerning scenario has also come to light. Stewards on the
Sunshine Coast in March upheld a protest by one jockey against another on the grounds that one hoop hit her horse more than five times prior to the 100 metre mark. If it can happen there it can happen anywhere - maybe even in a feature staying race at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November. Imagine the hullabaloo that would ensue.

How do we gauge the impact that a whip can have on a horse’s performance? American Jerry Bailey, best known for his association with the superstar Cigar (16 consecutive wins), was one of the world’s all time greatest jockeys, and he had some interesting things to say about whip use. He said “I don’t like to use the stick too much. You never know how the horse will react. Some of them don’t like it. Some resent it. Some stop running”. On the flip side we’ve all seen a horse travelling ok in the run, until it’s jockey hits it with the whip, and then the galloper suddenly goes into overdrive and takes off like Speedy Gonzales. There’s no doubt that the use of the whip can enhance the performance of some horses.

There are gallopers which definitely take a while to ‘gee-up’ for a race. Whip use can even begin before a race as some jockeys give horses a crack with the whip on the way to the barriers to ‘liven’ them up. Horses which respond well to the 'persuader' are obviously exactly the kinds of horses that are going to be compromised by the new rule which limits whip use prior to the 100 metre mark.

From a performance perspective, it would appear fair to propose a hypothesis that horses with this kind of profile - i.e. those that respond well to the use of the whip, and in particular, those horses which also get back in their races and finish on - would be less likely to win under the new whip rules. To test this hypothesis, at we studied the results of 976 horse races - these included 473 races run in the three months just prior to the new whip rules being introduced on December 1st, 2015, and another 503 races run in the three months immediately after that date. The races were run on
Melbourne and Sydney
metropolitan race tracks.

If the impact of the new whip rules had the effect that horses from back in the field were less likely to win as per the hypothesis, this would show up in the results.

Here’s what we found -

     Race Results - Pre and Post The New Whip Rules ;


Winners which settled in 1st to 5th place in the run -

Winners which settled in 6th place or further back in the run -

Races run prior to the introduction of the new whip rules

                                 327 (69%)

                                    146 (31%)

Races run after the introduction of the new whip rules

380 (76%)

                                     123 (24%)

      (Footnote: The average field size of Australian races is 10 runners).

Going on the above figures, it would appear that our hypothesis is confirmed by the results. That is, horses which settle back in the field are less likely to win since the introduction of the new whip rules. This means that spectacular finishes like Kiwi’s near last to first victory in the 1983 Melbourne Cup, whilst not being a thing of the past, are now less likely to come to pass.  

Ongoing criticism of the new whip rules has led to Racing Australia - the national industry body representing thoroughbred racing in Australia - to recently conduct a review of the rules. They have taken long overdue submissions from industry stakeholders. Racing Australia
’s findings and recommendations from the review should make interesting reading.

                                                                                             September 2016