Harness Racing: The Whipping rule change.

Perhaps the hottest topic in harness racing right now is the proposed whipping rule change. Apparently a few folks feel that the majority of the drivers in a majority of the races use the whip excessively. I don’t agree. I do think at some of the smaller tracks with some lesser drivers the whip is overused. That being said, I think the problem should be handled specific to each track or driver as opposed to an industry wide change that isn’t supported by the majority of the fans or the majority of the trainers and drivers.

I spoke with a friend of mine whose father owned and trained standardbreds for about 10 years or so. He told me that some horses don’t need the whip, they know what they are supposed to do with a shake of the lines or the rocking of the bike. He also said, they had one horse who would refuse to pace a step forward if he wasn’t under whipping of some sort. It may have looked excessive, but it was the only way the horse would race well.

The current rules on whipping from the USTA currently state the following:

“Drivers will be allowed whips not to exceed 4 feet, plus a snapper not longer than 6 inches. Provided further that the following actions shall be considered as excessive or indiscriminate use of the whip:

A.) Causing visible injury.
B.) Whipping a horse after a race.
C.) Whipping under the arch or shafts of the sulky.

The use of the whip shall be confined to an area above and between the sulky shafts, to include the sulky shafts and the outside wheel discs. Drivers shall keep a line in each hand from the start of the race until the head of the stretch finishing the race. At extended pari-mutuel meetings, under the supervision of the Judges, there shall be mandatory visual inspection of each horse following each race for evidence of excessive or brutal use of the whip. At all other meetings, the Judges shall have the authority to order/and or conduct such visual inspection at their discretion. The use of any goading device, chain, or mechanical devices or appliances, other than the ordinary whip or crop upon any horse in any race shall constitute a violation of this rule. The brutal use of a whip or crop or excessive or indiscriminate use of the whip or crop shall be considered a violation and shall be punished by a fine and/or suspension. The mandatory minimum penalty for a whipping violation shall be a fine in the amount of $100 and a 3 day suspension from driving for the first offense and for each subsequent violation the mandatory minimum penalty shall increase in the amount of $100 and 3 days (e.g. $200 and 6 days for the 2nd offense, $300 and 9 days for the 3rd offense, etc.)”

The proposed change will read like this:

“Drivers will be allowed whips not to exceed 4 feet. The use of snappers is not permitted. Drivers must keep a line in each handhold at all times during the race and have control of their horse at all times during the race.”

The biggest change and perhaps the hottest topic within the topic is that the drivers will have to keep both hands in the hand holds eliminating one handed whipping.

I’m not sure why the current rules need to be changed? Is it to appease PETA and animal right type groups? Are we hoping they will all of the sudden become horse racing fans and the handle will grow? My fiance, who isn’t a PETA member accompanied me to the Meadowlands for the Pace Elims this summer and on the way to the track she made a comment about the horses being whipped. Once we were at the track, I was able to show her and she could hear for herself that the drivers hit the sulky shaft and wheel disc more often than they hit the horse. For the last 8 or 9 years of pretty serious handicapping at a lot of different tracks and OTB venues, the one complaint I can assure you I’ve never heard from a horse player is the jockey, or in this instance the driver, used the whip too much. If anything, most everyone with a losing ticket questions whether the jockey/driver tried and/or whether or not the driver/trainer intended to win the race. The new whipping rule will do nothing but help give those people ammunition and possibly scare more people away from a game that is already struggling.

As we speak, www.ustrotting.com has a pole up asking whether or not the rules should be amended. The results are 60% No and 40% Yes. Will the powers to be listen? I doubt it. Why listen to the fans who support the game?

Trainer and driver Buzzy Sholty, driver Yannick Gingras, driver George Brennan have all written letters asking for the rule to left the way it is. The claim the current rules are fine, they just need to be enforced. Alan Leavitt, USTA director and owner, breeder has supported the rule change. You can read all four of the letters at www.ustrotting.com.

Don’t change the rule. The poll on the front page us www.ustrotting.com should be sufficient reason to leave it the way it is.

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