For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Chuck the Whip?

In a television appearance on Wednesday, HRNZ CEO Edward Rennell expressed his personal opinion that whips need to go, an opinion which undoubtedly has heads spinning among New Zealand horsemen. For example, former world champion driver Mark Jones claimed "I think it's a big part of racing and it's needed and it would be a terrible spectacle if you take it away from racing,"

While I am not sure what Jones means by 'spectacle', I don't think anyone can argue that the use of a whip adds to the color of the sport, something which many people will think is a wonderful thing.  Rennell realizes harness racing needs to get rid of the whip because it is a magnet for animal-rights activists, something which will hurt the sport in New Zealand and elsewhere.  To the AR people and the general public, telling them you are limiting the number of times a driver may use the whip is not going to help; one strike will be too many.  The HRNZ CEO realizes it is best to be ahead of the problem rather than have the problem control the solution.

Here in the States, while the focus of animal rights activists is first on greyhound racing, thoroughbred and quarter horse racing, then harness racing, make no mistake the sport sooner or later will be in the bulls-eye of AR activists.  Whether or not they can directly eliminate the whip is unknown, but rest assured they will be able to launch a campaign which will make racing an outlaw, making it easier for legislatures to decouple or redirect funds going to the sport.

Now I am not suggesting we throw the whips out tomorrow, but there is no reason why a transition to whipless racing can't take place.  We can start one year eliminating the whip in two year old races, the following year two and three year old races, then all races.  For those who feel the whip is a safety issue, we can even let drivers carry the whip for use in emergency situations and then evaluate over a period of time whether the safety issue is real or perceived.  

Then, harness racing will be a spectacle, one we can be proud of.

For Throw Back Thursday, we go to 1997 where we see the Harley Davidson Trot which was won by Australian invader Knight Pistol.

Oh, by the way, if you looked at the race closer, you will notice the lack of a whip in each driver's hand.   While one race doesn't prove anything, Norway has been racing without whips for years and obviously it works.  If it can work in Norway, it can work in New Zealand and it can work in North America.  Granted, it will take bettors some getting used to, before they become comfortable with it.  Being most tracks have a minuscule handles anyway, relying on slots to fund purses, wouldn't it be a good time to make a transition when any temporary drop-off in handle can be managed without seriously hurting purses?

Like many things in racing, it isn't a question of 'can we or can't we', it's a question of the will to make a change.  Change will come.  The question is one can lead or one can be dragged kicking and screaming.

For those purists who love the sport of harness racing for the sport itself, here is a segment called "The Bush Tracks" which was produced by Mississippi Public Television back in 2014.  Enjoy.


Marv said...

A couple of thoughts on whips. A driver may need a whip to control some horses. When I owned horses, I used to enjoy jogging them. One time at Del Mar where the standardbreds would train before the Los Al meet started, I went to jog one of the other horses in the stable and my trainer handed me a whip. I asked him what that was for and he says, "you'll find out." Sure enough, after one lap of the track, the horse stops dead at the draw gate with 2 more laps to go. I chirp at him and shake the lines and the horse turns and looks at me. Even a light tap with the whip evoked no response. A moderate tap got him going again.

If a driver is whipless during a race, I suspect we'll see other objectionable conduct such as kicking, er dropping a foot and brushing a hock, or pulling on the tail. This might not be a step up.

JLB said...

Well said, Marv. I, too, as an owner many years ago, jogged some horses, most of whom, thankfully, were "bomb-proof". One of the very first was an aged mare who was on the lazy side. When she slowed, I merely needed to put the right line in my left hand, and she responded. She knew what typically came next, but I never had to even show her the whip. I thought that was fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Here's a different whip story. When my friend first owned a horse. he went to the watch his trainer work him. To his surprise, the trainer suggested he take the horse for a jog. Got in the sulky, trainer gave him the reins and a whip and off they went. The horse picked up speed and my friend held on for his life. The horse went around the track at full speed until he tired. My friend got back to the trainer and asked what happened. He said you were holding the whip straight up and high, it was wiggling back and forth and the horse took that as a sign that you wanted him to go faster. Quick lesson in how not to hold the whip.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not going to the races because of those terrible whips"....said NO person ever!

(at least none that ever had any intention of going anyway)

Perhaps these types of decisions should be made by ACTUAL horsemen who work/drive ACTUAL horses....and not by self-important folks that sit at a keyboard