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Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Word (For a While) on Whipping, History in the Making at Du Quoin

My apologies to those of you who are sick and tired of reading about whipping. While this blog talks about issues which address harness racing, this blog does not strive to be a bully pulpit harping about any one issue. I strive to talk about all things in harness racing from the good to the not very good, sometimes talking about things as simple as a particular horse race. My goal is to not only make this blog informative, but enjoyable. I realize talking about the same old same old may become boring to some and take away the enjoyment.

That being said, in all my time following harness racing (suffice it to say I remember having to go to different windows to make different wagers as well as to cash) no one issue has raised emotions as much the whipping debate and with the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) implementing new 'urging' rules this week, reality has set in. It would be an understatement to say some people don't like the new rule. Of course, some people approve of the ORC's changes.

Needless to say, the discussion of the ORC rule has raised such passions that I can now say I know what it feels like to be a Congressman at a Town Hall Meeting discussing Health Care. For voicing my opinions on the subject (it is no secret I support the new rule) I have been accused of being a member of PETA (I am not), called a tree hugger and worse. To be sure, the vast majority of people have been respectful, even if they disagreed with my position. As for those that have not been respectful? I realize they are just angry and don't take their insults personally.

For my last posting on whipping for a while, permit me the liberty of reprinting something I had posted elsewhere. The reason I am reprinting this response is because I believe it basically gets to the bottom line of why the ORC has issued these rules and why these rules, one way or another, will likely be coming to your local harness track. My response has been edited slightly, to leave out the identity of the person I was responding to. This person appeared not to have read the new rules because he was wondering why after all these years you no longer will be able to hit a horse. He also wondered why it was okay for some of the all time greats to drive one-handed through the stretch in the past and now it will not be allowed. Another reason why I suspect the individual did not read the rule was the person expressed a concern that because of the new rules, drivers that kick or put the whip between the legs will now do so more. Here is my response:

[Nickname], I am not singling you out, but people should look at the new rules for themselves before making a judgement on the rule. If you already did, please accept my apologies. I am afraid people see the heading on this thread and they see red or think the worst; emotions get inflamed for no reason.

That being said, here are some answers to the questions you raise:

1. You can still use a whip on a horse. You must give a horse a chance to respond after you hit him and the only times you are not allowed to use the whip is if the horse is obviously out of contention (i.e., no way they are going to earn purse money or advance to a final) or the horse is obviously tired and quitting. You are limited to how far you can lift you whip before you apply the whip; think of the whip having a dial setting between 0 and 10. Instead of setting it to ten, you can only set it at a maximum of five.

2. The new rules bans kicking a horse. Kick a horse and you are going to get a fine and/or suspension; perhaps even be placed lower. Penalties are increased. Kicking should go down, not up.

3. The new rule bans putting a whip between the legs. Put the whip between the hind legs of the horse, you are going to get a fine and/or suspension; perhaps even be placed lower. This type of activity should go down as well.

4. The rule allows the use of a whip to prevent injury to a driver or horse. Hence, if a horse goes off-stride, decides to bolt, tries to run into another horse, or the driver is trying to avoid another situation which may cause and accident, the driver will be able to use the whip to prevent the situation from occurring.

5. Let's take it at face value that top drivers don't over use the whip, or kick their horses or place the whip between the hind legs (though I think we can all think of some top driver or two who have been known to do so). There are plenty of drivers out there who will go to the whip far too quick/hard, will kick a horse with regularity, or place the whip between the hind legs. They may not race at the WEG tracks but there are plenty of other tracks in Ontario and these rules apply to all tracks in the province.

Why all these changes? Fifty years ago no one thought anything about someone drowning a litter of puppies in a pond or throwing them into an incinerator to get rid of them. Get caught now, you will end up in front of a judge and possibly going to jail. Twenty years ago not too many people gave a hoot about the inhumane treatment of a cow being slaughtered for meat. You have seen the outrage now when films showing how a downer cow is treated (yes, PETA may have released that tape but I don't think they asked for the workers to do it for their benefit).

Like it or not, people's sensibilities towards the treatment of animals have changed. One option is people can accept change and adapt, which this rule change is attempting to do or the other option is to fight the new reality and stick up for the way we did things in the past and join all those people who worked in the greyhound industry that are now working at McDonalds, collecting unemployment or welfare.

Again, not directing this at you [Nickname], no doubt some drivers are kicking and screaming about this change but this rule was crafted with the assistance of drivers. Does this mean all the drivers who assisted on developing this rule like it? Some drivers have no problem with the rule change and the others decided they see how society is going and they like being gainfully employed.

My suspicion is this rule will be coming to your local track within a couple of years. People may not like it but 'the winds are a changing' and racing is beginning to realize it.

For those of you wondering why I have not yet talked about the World Trotting Derby, it is because there is not much to talk about. Unless Muscle Hill decides to do his impersonation of Niatross at Saratoga Raceway in 1980 (there still is a hub rail at Du Quoin) the only question is will the WTD basically be an exhibition race or an assault against the clock. If an assault against the clock, history may be in the making as Muscle Hill may be the first trotter to crack the 1:50 mark. The fans at the Du Quoin State Fair are in for a treat.

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