Horse whipping crackdown irks jockeys ahead of New Jersey racing season
New Jersey is starting to crack down on horse racing after receiving pressure from animal rights groups.
The state will have the toughest rules in the nation when it comes to whipping horses when the racing season starts in May, but some high-profile jockeys say that they may not be around to see how it works out.
Horse whipping has been a key part of racing for decades, but this will be changing. It starts with the language. Whips will now be known as riding crops.
“It’s a riding crop. It even says light touch. So listen, you see, we’ve been hit many times in a race. We don’t have a red mark afterwards. We’re here for the horses. A jockey’s whole career depends on the racehorse,” says jockey Joe Bravo.
Bravo’s career is a Monmouth Park Racetrack success story, racking up million in purse money over some 30 years. But this new rule has him threatening to quit this season.
He says that he should be free to tap the horse all he wants when the whip is down. But he also needs to flip it up and strike with force. He says that he is willing to limit that number.
But New Jersey’s not even half-full racing commission banned all whipping unless there is a direct threat to the horse or jockey. Bravo says that he would have to change his racing style all together.
“You have to go through holes that are narrow. If I’m not able to get my horse’s attention to go through a hole – I’ve hit the ground many times, broke a leg, broken wrist. I broke my back four times,” Bravo says.
There is also concern that the rule will affect competition, which would impact the multimillion-dollar betting industry.
“There’s money being bet and the guy next to you says, ‘Oh, I thought my horse was going to jump and he whips, and this guy doesn’t because the rule says you can’t,’ now what happens,’” says horse owner Joseph Irace.
Officials will have to decide if whips were being down for safety. Jockeys could face fines and other penalties.
“Nobody wants to see a horse that’s 10 lengths behind or 29 ahead. There’s no reason for it, but in the heat of the moment when you’re coming down the stretch and you want to encourage the horse, it’s something you want to see,” says Irace.
Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazin says that everyone agrees that there needs to be a whip rule. But the feeling is that New Jersey’s new rule is now good.
Jockeys are appealing the rule, but it is tied up in the courts. PETA has praised the new law, calling it “progress.”