Saturday, May 23, 2015

Six Thoughts on the Excellent TDN Whipping Series

Today in the TDN several industry and media types looked at the whipping issue in Thoroughbred racing. This issue, primarily rekindled with Victor Espinoza's use of the whip in the Derby, is one that never seems to go away. It's this sport's elephant under the big top.

The series of articles, from different perspectives, is good and every one of the people who shared their opinion had some good points, in my view. I'll take a look at a few of them here:

1. It hurts the horse, so it's bad - I remember being at Woodbine one evening for the harness races.  A three year old colt stormed home nicely to come third. His gait seemed a little off but it was a stout effort. After the race, in the paddock, the horse collapsed and had to be put down. He had blown both front tendons during the race. I don't think whipping 'hurts' a horse at the time it is done, and the Aussie study by animal behavioural experts seems to convey that.  I suspect it may hurt later and looks like it hurts, and I realize the animal groups can make hay that it does hurt. But horses run through brick walls in the heat of battle, and I think that's not an issue.

2.  Lazy horses need it - I know we live in an Oprah world where everyone gets a ribbon, but sports is merit based and only the strong survive. If your horse bleeds too bad to race, or needs to be beaten mercillously because he's lazy, his problems lie in his gene pool, and he probably needs to be a pleasure horse.  

3. We know best - I've heard "let the participants decide what to do, the jocks know best". I think that opinion matters, but it should be taken with a huge grain of salt. If football players made up the rules, clotheslines and leading with a helmet would be legal and more and more players would be eating through a straw.  Participants hate change because it means they have to change the way they have always done things. The culture, as Chris Mac notes in his piece, is very strong and these folks need to be listened to for their experience, but they need to be led, not appeased. 

4. One Reminder or two are fine, more is overkill - I think common sense and the Aussie studies confirm this. If you yell "fire!" it's startling and you run. If you yell fire 32 times, you get a cry wolf response. Bang, bang, bang, bang successive times probably does nothing and looks terrible.

5. Bettors and owners think you're not trying - This has been proven to be much ado about nothing.  Vociferous bettors or owners might think like that, but not the masses. Racing in Ontario has little whip usage. In harness racing you can barely tap them anymore. No one is complaining, handle is not down, and more and more track records and lifetime marks are set each year. It's a scare tactic that's used for the status quo, with no empirical evidence to back it up.

 6. They're horses, they know what they're there for - I remember hearing from the trainer of Bettors Delight, a really good horse and sire in harness racing. He was a terrible trainer, at times unable to train in company in 2:25, no matter what you did. On race night he got his game face on and would be almost unbeatable. In Thoroughbred racing, bad morning trainers no matter what whip use, are very common, but on raceday they were new horses. I think this explains why track records are set without much whip use. The crowd, the other horses, pack animals and being conditioned, over and over and over again for that moment trumps a few whacks almost every time. Horses are horses, they're bred to race in packs, and they and animal physiology experts that tell us this fact should not surprise us.

Have a nice weekend everyone.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The whip debate has been going on for a long time. I don't have total recall like my longtime friend Eddie Burgart at Los Alamitos Race Course. I do remember issues of the whip. The first that comes to mind would be the late Ismael "Milo" Valenzuela whose use of the crop would leave welts. Nobody, however, could deny the end result this great jockey got. In 1958 I covered racing for the Pasadena Independent. Jack Westrope had a reputation for being a good whip rider. I was sitting in the Hollywood Park pressbox on June 19,1958 when Westrope could not stop a filly named Well Away from crashing into the inside rail midway through the stretch. Most riders said if Jackie couldn't stop a horse from doing such a thing, then nobody could. He died as a result of that incident. Not many years ago I wrote a column on the pages of titled: "Osterman's 'Sick of The Whip' Column Stirs Debate; Former Trainer-Gallop Boy Rose Makes His Case. "Yes, there are a minority of horses that resent the whip," Rose began, "bjut he(Osterman) is clueless about those that actually reach their full potential through the use of the whip. My late friend Osterman was critical of whip use by jockeys. There are many who agree with his stance. Rose worked for famed Sunny "Jim Fitzsimmons and R.L. "Bob" Wheeler. "I'll go no further than to name the 1988 Breeders Cup winner at Churchill Downs," said Rose, who went on to train in California on his own. "The horse's name was Great Communicator, with Ray Sibille up. That horse wouldn't have been worth a dime if Ray didn't stay after him the final three-quarters of a mile, with his stick. I've known, and been aboard many, many of them that only extend themselves through the use of the whip. Of course, when a horse is spent, and has no chance of saving a part mutuel payoff position, the whip should not be used excessively, as there is no reasoning behind that. The key is for the riders and trainers to learn their individual horses and realize every detail that will bring out the best performances in each. I inherited a filly named Celery from northern California that never ran a jump up there in her races. I freshened her, and when the time came to breeze her 5/8ths before I ran her, I was on her myself. She went every eighth in 12.0 for the half-mile, and I drew my whip and showed it to her with intentions of tapping her with it. She pinned her ears and damn near propped! Ahah!......I had found the key to what soon was to be a win in a straight maiden rce at Santa Anita and paid $97. I selected a Panamanian jock that was here from New York, where I had witnessed what a strong hand-rider he was. His name was Angel Santiago, and he had attended the jockey school in his homeland that sent us so many outstanding handriders. I informed him that I didn't want him to show her the whip(I could never take a jockey's whip away from them), so I allowed him to carry it in case of emergency." Osterman mentioned the fact Trevor Denman has advocated banning the whip for a long time. Like I said, there are those against whip use, and those like Rose who make a good argument for proper use of the bat.

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