British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington has responded to criticism of the sport’s leadership amid continuing outcry over the introduction of the new whip regulations.
Thirteen-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls said on Friday he was “livid” with the timing of the changes ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, which starts on March 14, and that the BHA needed to show “a bit of backbone” to stand up for the sport.
No less than 19 jockeys were given whip suspensions in the first week that the new rules came into force on February 19. A further 12 riders were suspended when the whip review committee convened for a second time.
Nicholls accused the BHA of “appeasing” critics of the sport rather than standing up for its participants.
Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Harrington said: “Obviously I’m disappointed to hear those comments, but actually it does take backbone to make some unpopular decisions. We know there is huge passion on either side of the debate about the whip and I have to be strong in that we are not pandering to those people who will never love the sport.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure the sport is fair and also that it’s as attractive as possible to those people who don’t have a strong opinion either way on the sport.
“I think everybody would agree there are different sides and different schools of thought on whether the whip is a welfare issue, but I think everybody does agree that it is a perception issue for the sport. I think it would be negligent of us to know that and just sit and do nothing about it.
“The whip review panel, on our behalf, was filled with people who work really closely with horses and it was their strong recommendation to continue to keep the whip for encouragement, because they believe it is not a welfare issue.
“Let me be clear, I do not believe it is an issue of welfare, but I am also leading a sport where I know there is a huge, passionate debate on both sides and difference of opinion there.”
The changes to the whip regulations see a reduction of one strike. It can now be used six times on the Flat and seven over jumps, with a disqualification for the horse if riders go four or more times over that threshold. Suspensions for jockeys are also more severe.
Harrington added: “It’s also a fairness issue, to make sure we have fair results – if you are connections of a horse that is ridden within the rules but you lose out to a horse that is ridden outside the rules, there needs to be sufficient deterrent to make sure that is fair and there isn’t a win at all costs mentality.
“There’s never a good time to make changes and making changes is difficult. There will always be people who disagree, but there is a clear understanding that those rules are in place now and it’s up to the jockeys to ride within those rules.”