(Is this use of the whip permissive? / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Let’s be honest here, for just a few minutes. Is that OK? Can we do that? Can we put the cards on the table and put all the agendas aside, and get down to the truth and what really matters? Just for a bit?

Is that too tough to handle? Is that really too much to ask? Frank and open discussion. That too foreign a concept for the big boys and girls to consider?

After all, the world’s greatest sport and one of the most important industries in all the land is at stake here. The future of the game, down to its’ most important ingredients, is at risk. The integrity of the sport is what we are discussing. The very nature of what a horse race is and how it is conducted and how the outcome is determined is in the balance.

Seems as if some time should be taken to allow full discussion and disclosure.

Seems as if all the place-holders — all of them and us — should be able to back away from the table just for awhile, and allow everyone a seat at this table.

Seems as if the industry should take all precautions and measures to assure that everyone’s opinion is heard, understood, considered, contemplated, and, at the very least, discussed before decisions are rushed to the alter. Decisions that could undermine the very sport to its’ core.

Just seems like some degree of science should be allowed introduction before opinion rules the day, and knee-jerk rules the world.

Just seems like the right thing to do, right?

Just seems like the fair thing to do, fair?

On Thursday, the California Horse Racing Board is going to take up a very, ahem…, sensitive issue as it pertains to horse racing.


(Editor’s Note: Anybody else getting sick and tired of allowing all the mistakes and screwups — and I am talking about some of the people as much as I am the decisions — that occur in California dictate how the sport, game and industry is perceived, adjudicated, regulated and conducted in the rest of the free world? I am. But, I digress.)

On Thursday, the California Horse Racing Board is supposed to take up the subject of the riding crop, and render a decision on how one can be used by the actual riding professional in the conduct of an actual horse race. Not by those that make their living riding horses, mind you. By bureaucrats.

On Thursday, apparently, the California Horse Racing board is going to prohibit the use of a riding crop to “encourage” a horse to take a certain course of action and finish a race in front.

On Thursday, the game and sport of horse racing may be changed forever.

And, certainly to some of us, not in a good way.

Just another way. Just another bone tossed to the vultures that are now hovering over our sport.

Another way to try and pacify a vicious minority who have deemed horse racing to be cruel and unusual punishment for an animal that is, and shall forever be, born to run and race.

Another bone to try and quiet a group that is hellbent on creating havoc at every turn, at all occasions, and make themselves relevant in a world that now caters to the angry and gives far too much credence to the loud.

Another way to try and appeal to a “cottage industry” that is created to leverage whatever crisis it can spin into more money. More money to spend on their own “kill shelters” and super salaries than it does on truly helping improve the lives of any living thing — other than themselves.

Another bone tossed to the jaws of those that will not be satisfied with anything less than complete elimination.

And, here’s the thing.

This is not a bone worth tossing.

This is not even a productive way, mind you.

Where is the scientific data that shows that the use of a riding crop injures a horse, either physically or mentally?

Where is the testimony of the people that know more about riding a horse and using a crop than anyone else in history? Where is the input of the rider, the jockey.

Where are the reasons for change?

Because you think it may appease the critics?

Because you think it may stop the public relations issues?

Because you think it may stop the accidents occurring on faulty racing surfaces in California? Really?

Because you think it is a bad “optic.” And, it doesn’t look good?


What are we going to do next, then?

Outlaw tongue ties? They don’t look good.

Outlaw blinkers? Don’t they impair vision?

Outlaw shadow rows? What do those damn things do anyway?

Outlaw horse shoes? Surely to goodness those nails can’t feel good, right? Got to go to glue-ons. Got to.

Outlaw nasal strips? They must hurt when removed after a race. Like a bandaid on your hairy leg?

Outlaw girths? Too tight.

Outlaw bits? Hurt the teeth.

Outlaw reins? Too controlling.

Outlaw riders, altogether. Too heavy.

If you listen long and intently enough to the dialogue regarding this issue, it appears that the hue and cry to outlaw the use of the riding whip is coming from the same people that want nothing more, nothing less than a complete halt to horse racing altogether.

It is coming from PETA, who will never stop trying to stop horse racing. Never.

It is coming from animal welfare advocates, who simply do not know anything about the sport or the composition of the new whip, and how it can be used without punishment or harm.

And, it is coming, unfortunately, from people that make up The Jockey Club — a group of aristocrats that has never lowered its’ standards to include the opinions or the likes of the vast majority of people that actually make up the Thoroughbred industry from ground to withers. The Jockey Club, you see, are above us. Hell, they think they are above God Almighty. After all, they were born into the “lucky sperm club,” and, as such, granted the mantle and the scepter to rule over the entire Thoroughbred world. It is their domain. Only theirs. Only their opinion counts.

Truth is, the members of The Jockey Club would like to see horse racing conducted in this country similar to how it is done in Europe and Japan. Where only the wealthy are allowed entry. Where the “club” and the “club alone” dictates who can even own and race a horse.

Anything that can move the sport away from its’ current format to one where they — The Jockey Club members — can sit in the Ivory Tower, parasol in hand, top hat adorned, and cast a eye toward both their glorious steed (who can’t outrun my $5,000 claimer, mind you) without the distraction of true competition? And, where they — the Jockey Club members — would not actually have to breed and own a horse that can out-perform a real runner owned by the likes of me and you?

Oh. Right up their ally.

Get rid of those dastardly batons of whip on the racetrack. After all, they should be reserved for the “High and Mighty” to use at home, and against the staff at the stately mansions, mind you. Only way to keep a Butler and Nanny in line, right?

“The Jockey Club” may be the most misnamed group in all of history. It is not made up of jockeys that ride horses. It is made up of desk jockeys. And, it does not come close to representing the interests and needs of most people that make their living in the horse industry. Never has. Never will.

Simply put…

This pending decision by the California Horse Racing Board is not right. Or just. Not the way it is being handled. Not in this country, which is supposed to be built on the idea of fairness for one and all; where there is equal access to the court of law; where there is both a judge and a jury.

If it is, then allow the entire racing community a seat at the table. Allow all to be heard. Permit all to have input and direction.

Should there be stern limits on how a riding crop should be utilized in the conduct of a horse race?

Absolutely. Limit the use. Limit how it’s used. Limit the number of uses.

Should there be stern guidelines as to the composition of a riding crop, in order to ensure that the health and safety of the horse are protected?

Absolutely. Build a better mouse trap. Build a safer version. Ensure that all riders are only able to utilize the “approved brand.” Build severe penalties into the system to ensure compliance.

Can other safeguards and protections will implemented, and more research and technology utilized?

Absolutely. Spend the time to investigate what can work and what is helpful. Spend the money to make it.

The man that now sits in the Chairman’s Chair of the CHRB is Gregory Ferraro, who is, by all accounts, a fair and just man. A man who spent a lifetime as a veterinarian. A man who has spent a lifetime treating and helping horses. A considerate man. A passionate man. A caring human. In the short time that he has been handed this job, which may be the worst of times in the history of racing in the Golden Bear State, there is no way that this issue has bubbled to the top on its’ own. Or its’ own merits. There is no way that the use of the whip is the most pressing issue of this time. No way.

Someone has pushed it. Who?

Somebody has crushed it. Who?

Something is causing it. What?

Something is compelling judgment now. Why?

It’s time to stop. Drop. And, roll.

It’s time to answer questions. It’s time to study more; measure twice and cut once. It’s time to take some time.

Snap judgments and snap decisions are usually just that.

Snap. Broken. Gone. Bad.

In other words…

This is just like the owners of the National Football League calling a meeting to decide that too many head injuries are being reported, and that there are simply too many concussions occurring for the game to continue, as is, and that the sport should eliminate all tackling, blocking and go to “flag football.” Jerome Bettis may have a future, after all.

This is just like the owners of Major League Baseball calling a meeting to decide that the human thrown baseball is simply too dangerous for the participants and that from now on the sport will have pitching machines throw all baseballs to the hitters. And, oh yeah, running the base baths is too dangerous, as well, so the game is now just going to become a home run contest. Bring back Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.

This is just like the owners of the National Basketball Association calling a meeting to decide that the dunk creates too many injuries and that all “jumping,” will not be allowed. Maybe Grayson Allen — from Duke — could make an NBA team, after all.

This is just like the Professional Golfers Association ruling that too many balls are flying off line and into the gallery and that all future games will not be conducted at Top Golf facilities. And, that putt-putt courses will decide The Masters. I knew I had a shot.

A long, long time ago, a group of friends of mine and me where at Churchill Downs watching the races. We had more beers than money and more money than sense. We all would handicap and then bet our modest wagers. And, of course, we would cheer our horse loud and proud.

During one such race on this day, a friend of mine was supporting a horse ridden by the former Kentucky superstar jockey Julio Espinoza. As both Julio and his horse faded in the deep stretch, my friend began to yell:

“Julio go to the whip. Julio go to the whip. Julio go to the whip.”

Julio did not. And, his horse rumbled home behind many others.

On the way back to the jockey’s quarters, my friend did not allow the moment to pass without issuing a retort and a complaint. Several times. Several loud times.

“Julio, why didn’t you go to the whip? Julio, why didn’t you go to the whip? Julio, why didn’t you go to the whip?”

Finally, as he was about to enter the tunnel that leads from the track to the paddock, Julio raised his fist and his whip and shouted back:

“Because I save it for you.”

We all hit the ground in laughter and rolled for minutes at the answer.

Jockeys best know when to go to the whip.

Jockeys best know when to save the whip.

If California bans the use?

Julio and his friends should save it for those people that are advocating its’ dismissal.