Ever since racing authorities announced new rules on the use of whips, there’s been debate whether or not whips win races. Many jockeys are still upset about the ban, both from a competitive standpoint and because of safety issues.
“I’m not happy about (the new whip rule),” he said. “This will change the races a lot. There are some horses that really need the whip. People are paying a lot of money for these horses and when you can use the whip any horse can win.”Paco Lopez
“This is going to make it more dangerous. You need the whip to correct the horse. These horses have their own minds. The whip is a weapon we have to be able to control the horse.”Jose Ferrer
This will make it a lot more difficult when you are trying to keep a horse straight. You won’t have anything to make them do what you want them to do. They know that when they feel something, it means they are doing something wrong, that you are telling them they have to do it right. This will make it more dangerous. They will do stuff that you might not be able to see on a replay or watching the race live, but the jockey feels something and you have to correct them right away. It’s not like you can just talk to them and make them understand.”Jorge A. Vargas
Now, a new study has shown that there is no evidence that whip use in Thoroughbred horse racing improves steering, reduces interference, increases safety or improves finishing times. Researchers came to this conclusion after reviewing 126 race reports by stewards.
The whip has been considered important for on-course integrity for two main reasons — as mentioned by the jockeys’ statements above, the whip is believed to support a jockey’s ability to steer and to prevent interference between horses, which can cause catastrophic injury and it’s used as evidence that jockeys are encouraging their horses to win to their full extent. The use of the whip is referred to as “encouragement” or “persuasion” and essential to giving all contenders an equal chance to win.
In their research, Thompson and her colleagues compared “whipping-free” races in Britain, where whips are held but not used, with the more commonplace “whipping-permitted” races to see if the use of whips was culturally entrenched, or actually made a difference. They analyzed reports for 126 flat races, representing 1178 jockeys and their horses, produced by stewards engaged by the British Horseracing Authority. Sixty-seven of the races studied were “Hands and Heels”, where whips are carried but not used; fifty-nine were races where whipping was permitted.
The study team found no statistically significant differences to show that whip use improved steering, reduced interference, increased safety or improved finishing times. However, stewards did report that for both types of races there was an urgent need to improve steering. Their recommendation was to improve the basic training of racehorses to take advantage of non-whip related cues at jockey’s disposal, such as using an opening rain or shifting their weight.
Most significantly, the researchers said there were no statistically significant differences in the finishing times between the two race types, which shows there is no evidence that whipping increases the speed of horses or reduces the loss of speed at the end of a race when horses are tired.
This current research duplicates the findings of a smaller study conducted in Australia in 2011. In that instance, two scientists used video recordings of horse races to compare the number of whip strikes to the outcome of a race. They evaluated only five races (48 horses). Stewards counted whip strikes during the last 656 yards and electronic sensors in the horses’ saddle blankets recorded their times and their finish place.
Their findings? 98% of the horses studied were whipped without, on the whole, influencing race outcomes. Jockeys typically began whipping their horses toward the end of the races, when the horses were already tired and slowing down. By the time the whipping started, the finish was usually already a done deal. In fact, the highest speeds achieved were when they weren’t being whipped.
In fact, although this hasn’t yet been studied in Thoroughbred racing, a 1987 study of racing Quarter horses at the gallop showed that the use of a whip on the shoulder of the leading forelimb, in rhythm with the stride, reduced stride length and increased stride frequency without increasing speed.
What do you think about whips and racing?