Last month at the Standardbred Wagering Conference in Montreal I mentioned that I had met several people I was very impressed with. I commented that perhaps I would get to speaking a bit about them in the future. I have not done that yet, but it is a good time to start. I meant to post about this last week.
Hector Clouthier is a long time participant in harness racing. He is currently heading up the OHRIA - the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association. For a look at Mr. Clouthier's schedule, check it out here. There clearly is not too much grass growing under this man's feet.
Well he is one of those people that "I meant to tell you about". He was front and centre at the conference and I was really, really impressed. To boot, he and his wife were enjoyable to speak with on non-racing subjects as well.
Recently he came out with an opine on harness racing and whipping. This is not like you and I speaking of whipping, because we have rarely sat behind a horse. It is from someone with experience.
"The current rules surrounding whipping must change," Clouthier said.
"We want to encourage more people to enjoy harness racing, but in allowing the current whipping rule we are actually discouraging people. The public perception must always be uppermost in our mind, and, generally speaking, the public does not want a driver putting both reins in one hand, reaching back with the other hand and whipping the horse.
"It sends a terrible signal and we must do something about it. At the very least, both hands should always be on the reins when using the whip. This would minimize the egregious display of abusing the horse."
Clouthier referred back to one of the greats, Joe O'Brien himself, to help prove his point.
"Believe me, good drivers need not resort to slashing and whipping a horse," said Clouthier. "The O'Brien Awards are named after Joe O'Brien. Anyone who saw Mr. O'Brien drive knows that he did not whip a horse. They called him 'Jiggling Joe' – he jiggled the lines and gave confidence to the horse.
"To regain public confidence in horse racing, the whipping rule must change. It will be a step in the right direction."
I tend to agree with much of that. It will not send people from offshore betting on poker to their nearest racetrack, of course, but it is something that is worth looking into. Women tend to not like the perceived brutality of the whip on a horse, no matter how much we explain that the drivers are striking the saddle pad (I have seen this too many times to mention - you should have seen the scowl I got, when after explaining that 'they only hit the saddle pad', one of the top drivers moved the whip to the horse's genatalia, shown in slow motion on the big screen at Mohawk). Women bring kids to the track, and are an important part of the live racing demographic. Gamblers are sometimes different, but they are not stupid. John Campbell is on record saying that one or two cracks and the horse gets the message. Everything else is overkill. I am not someone who wants the whip outlawed; that would be counterproductive, but we can tweak it a little bit to make it look less violent.
Anyway, it was a good time to give some props to someone I think is great for the business, and someone I had much respect for, from almost the very second I met him.
Keep up the good work Mr. Clouthier, we need people like you in our game.