The British Horseracing Authority have vigorously defended their whip rules following the publication of a column in the Times on Wednesday which claims horses are regularly ‘thrashed’ and ‘in pain’.
Matthew Syed has written an article (£) under the headline ‘Whipping horses is ruining racing – it must be banned’ in which he concludes: “It is in the interests not only of horses but of racing itself to consign the use of the device for the purposes of increasing speed to the scrapheap of history. It is time to ban the whip.”
Syed writes that “horses are being thrashed with whips at meeting up and down the country” and that the “[racing] industry should stop insulting the intelligence of those it seeks to persuade.”
The columnist, who admitted in the article that his recent first-hand experience of racing is limited to attendance at two meetings, claimed that “millions” of voices among “the paying public” objecting to the whip had been “consistently ignored” by the sport’s administrators.
In its response, the BHA takes issue with Syed’s claims and also offers to “engage with him” if he would like to learn more about the sport. The whip rules have been a source of controversy for many years and the BHA responded on Wednesday morning with a rebuttal of Syed’s suggestion.
“If horses behaved as if they were in pain, then the millions of people who watch the sport – and the thousands who take part and dedicate their lives to the care of these animals – simply wouldn’t accept it,” read the statement. “They would be horrified. In fact, our riders, trainers, and owners are knowledgeable and compassionate and the last thing they want to do is see their horses hurt. So Matthew is very wrong on this point.
“He is also wrong to say horses are ‘thrashed’. The whip is foam-padded and air-cushioned and we have very strict rules which limit the amount of times which the whip can be used, and jockeys who care about the horses they ride.
“We are surprised Matthew didn’t seek wider range of views before writing this, but would be happy to engage with him if he would like to learn more about the sport. We are aware that a debate is ongoing about the use of the whip and the BHA is following the wide range of views very closely.”
‘Might Bite could be a bit soft’
Chris Cook: It’s always fun to get trainers talking about each others’ horses, so I tried out a question on the three trainers at the King George press conference on Tuesday. If they could pinch a horse from either of the other two to add to their challenge for the Boxing Day race, which one would they choose
Paul Nicholls turned it over in his mind for a few seconds before responding: “Funnily enough, I think Bristol De Mai on his run the other day, because I think Might Bite could be a bit soft. Nicky’ll probably lynch me for saying it. He won the King George last year but that probably wasn’t the greatest King George of all time. He’s obviously a very smart horse but he might be a little soft. Bristol De Mai on his day is a very, very good horse. It’s a really interesting, intriguing race with lots of permutations.”
I put the same question to Nicky Henderson, who could also have picked Bristol De Mai. Instead, he paid Nicholls the compliment of choosing his Politologue, albeit seizing the opportunity to plug another of his own horses. “I could see Politologue being a good stayer. Altior is probably a better two-miler than he is, so three miles is the obvious way to go. I respect him, I think he’ll enjoy it.”
Finally, I asked Nigel Twiston-Davies whether he’d have Politologue, Clan Des Obeaux or Might Bite. Being Nigel Twiston-Davies, he didn’t just pick one of them. “Are they my only options?” he wanted to know. Um, I guess you can have anything in the race if you like. “In that case, Thistlecrack. I thought he ran the best prep race, having had a long time off.”
I’m not sure we’re any closer to finding the winner. Still, it’s interesting that the two men who could have picked Might Bite, the 7-2 favourite, went instead for horses priced at 8-1Â and 9-1. Maybe they don’t fancy the job of trying to keep his head straight …
Wednesday’s best bets, by Greg Wood
At Leicester’s all-hurdles meeting, Cougar Kid (2.00) has been knocking on the door so far this season and got to within half a length of William H Bonney at Hereford last time out. The winner there has won again since and John O’Shea’s seven-year-old looks poised to record his first success since January.
Ebony Gale (1.30) has failed to complete in two starts over hurdles since winner a bumper at Wincanton back in April but has still shown enough to suggest he is up to recording a first win over timber today, including when he departed at the second-last at Chepstow last time with a place in the frame apparently secure. Ask The Tycoon (3.20) is worth waiting for in the last at Hexham, while Power Home (2.40) and Divine Messenger (2.10) should both go well on the Flat card at Lingfield.