“I’m afraid I don’t get your pt. Here is mine. Horses get their arses smacked with a padded whip to win races. I support that”
Graham has been calling for someone to step up to the plate and rally those in favour of keeping the whip rules pretty much as they are. Sean Boyce feels just as strongly about the issue as Graham does (@boyciesbetting). Dave Yates feels the same (@thebedfordfox). No doubt many others would march through the Aye lobby for maintaining the status quo, but let me concentrate on these three gentlemen because each makes his living from horse racing. Graham, Sean and David are experienced professionals, with good minds and the ability to structure a solid argument.
Sean and David have put their cases already this week on their blogs (summaries and links within this article). Graham’s campaign, from what I can see, has been conducted forcefully on twitter. Sean’s belief is that things are fine as they are and racing should not move to appease ‘public opinion’ when there is no convincing proof that ‘the public’ want to see a change in the whip rules.
The core of David’s case, put with admirable honesty, is that a battle to the line without whips is little more than a ‘fun run’ which will emasculate the spectacle and the contest. David argues about the effect on international competition of a ‘whipless finish’ and adds two or three more planks – including this ‘no evidence of public opinion’ point. But he’s also brave enough to write this:
Every person who works in racing should face themselves in the mirror once a day, and repeat, ‘My name is David, and I work in an industry of animal exploitation.’ If you aren’t called David, feel free to use your actual name.
It’s a truth many people struggle with, but horses are conceived, foaled, reared and trained as the cornerstone of a huge industry.
That seems to sum up the case for the pro-lobby: whips work, a horse might get stung a few times but will suffer no lasting harm; effective regulation is in place, the ‘public opinion’ line is a phantom one, let’s leave things alone.
But it’s too late for that line of argument in my opinion. The court is now sitting as the BHA has announced a review and the pros will not have the ‘entitlement’ to a jury of their peers, because part of the terms of reference appears to include a ‘for the good of racing’ clause. This indicates, to me, at least, that the ‘public opinion’ aspect will be taken into consideration. If so, Dave Yates’s paragraph (above) will be exhibit A for the ‘hands and heels’ advocates.
The case argued by the antis lobby seems a strong one – not just to the man on the Clapham omnibus. Much of its credence comes from the fact that a number of racing professionals – just as experienced and passionate as David, Sean and Graham – believe it’s time to go in the hands and heels direction.
My belief for some time was that H&H was the way to go if racing truly wanted to widen its appeal. But Mark Johnston’s blog article pushed me strongly in the other direction. The vet turned trainer appears to make a most convincing case for the status quo, based on the assertion that it actually improves a horse’s chances of avoiding injury (he likens it to a boxer slapped by his seconds as he faces the final round – to remind him to ‘keep his chin tucked in’ and look after himself).
That theory, in my opinion, offers the pro-whip lobby their best chance. But to succeed in this ‘court’, they must abandon all supplementary arguments and throw everything behind MJ’s belief about the equine benefits of whip use. Strong evidence must be marshalled, more experts who share MJ’s view recruited.
I spoke at some length to RSPCA consultant David Muir on Thursday (article here) and he told me he thought there was something in what Mark Johnston says. The pro-lobby ought to seize on this. Mr Muir did not seem to think the theory carried a lot of weight but at least he accepted a measure of it and he seems like a man who, provided with sufficient corroboration, might move closer to the MJ camp. (This is just my interpretation – David Muir did not say he would – the MJ article was discussed only briefly).
One thing Mr Muir was certain about was that things cannot continue as they are. He is of the opinion that once a jockey adopts the forehand grip there is an implication that he is intent on causing pain. Nobody would expect the RSPCA to condone the gratuitous application of pain to an animal. For all that the BHA have promised to consult widely and in some detail, it seems highly likely that the foremost concern in their minds will be the views of the RSPCA. If the co-operation of that organisation is lost to racing, the long-term fallout could prove terminal for the popularity of our sport.