Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Announces New Rule Limiting Jockey Whip Use

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MAY 02:  A view of the twin spires and empty grandstand from the first turn at Churchill Downs on May 02, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky.  The 146th running of the Kentucky Derby, originally scheduled for May 2nd, has been postponed to September 5, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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Jockeys in Kentucky will no longer be able to whip their horses at will during races. 

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission passed a new rule Tuesday restricting the use of whips. However, it is not likely to go into effect until next season. 

Tim Sullivan @TimSullivan714

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission adopted rule today limiting whip use to a maximum six strikes during a race. Victor Espinoza’s use of the whip on American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby has been estimated between 29 and 33 times.

Per Matt Hegarty of Daily Racing Form:

“The new rules would limit riders to six uses of the whip after the first furlong [1/8th mile] is run, with no more than two strikes in succession without giving the horse an opportunity to respond. The rules also would allow riders to use the whip ‘to avoid a dangerous situation that may harm another rider or horse,’ with stewards being given the discretion to determine whether the jockeys’ use of the whip in those instances was justified.”

KHRC general counsel Jennifer Wolsing told Hegarty the rule may not be “enforceable” until late 2020 or spring 2021. 

The Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs, and the Breeders’ Cup is set for Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. The annual two events—arguably the biggest on the sport’s calendar, will likely operate without restrictions on whips this year. 

Both the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition and The Jockeys’ Guild supported the rule change, which was proposed and passed in less than two days with unanimous consent.

According to Hegarty, the move made kick off a broader ripple effect across the country:

“It was that consensus on the Kentucky rules that has some racing industry officials optimistic that the regulations could be adopted swiftly in other states, at a time when racing industry practices remain in the crosshairs of many animal-rights and animal-welfare organizations, which share a critical view of the use of the whip on racehorses.

“‘Our ultimate goal is to get to that place where we have uniform rules on the crop in all jurisdictions,’ said Mindy Coleman, legal counsel for the guild, after the meeting Monday. ‘So we’re appreciative that there was discussion and dialogue.'”

The amendment in Kentucky comes just five days after the California Horse Racing Board imposed more stringent restrictions, limiting jockeys to six whips for the entirety of a race, with all strikes underhanded while holding the reins or touching the neck of a horse.

California board members voted 4-2 after a nearly seven-hour debate and without the approval of the Jockeys’ Guild, which felt the measures were too strict and would put riders at risk. 

“We’re concerned that it’s not going to work, and that there’s going to be real safety issues when a jockey is unable to perform his or her job,” Guild attorney Shane Gusman told NBC’s Beth Harris. “What will happen is you’re going to get an accident, and either a jockey is going to get hurt or a horse is going to go down. You’re going to end racing in California. It’s just going to happen if you go down this road of trying to regulate perception rather than reality.”

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