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Jockeys’ Guild agrees to call off no-whip day at Santa Anita

The Jockeys’ Guild has called off its planned no-whip day on Friday after reaching an agreement with the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

It was meant to be an experiment showing what racing would be like if jockeys couldn’t use a riding crop to direct or encourage their mounts during a race. The move was initiated after the California Horse Racing Board took the initial steps to outlaw the use of a riding crop, or whip, in California. That rule is currently wending its way through administrative processes including a 45-day public comment period.

According to Terry Meyocks, president and chief executive of the Jockeys’ Guild, the riders had received no support from industry stakeholders until the Thoroughbred Owners of California reached out a couple days ago.

“I was very disappointed [there was no support],” Meyocks said. “But when the TOC and horsemen saw the implications of what we planned to do and the impacts to the horsemen, the betting public, even black type [stakes races], it resonated with them.

“Having the TOC on your side is a great start.”

If Friday’s whip boycott had happened, perhaps the greatest impact was to the bettors, many of whom said they would not wager on Friday’s card. It would bring a reduction in the mutuel handle, which is where the tracks make their money.

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California already has the toughest rules in the country when it comes to the use of the riding crop, or whip. A jockey may strike a horse three times and then has to give the horse time to respond before using the crop again. Violations of this rule start at $100 for the jockeys and go up with each subsequent violation.

In New York, you are allowed five strikes. During the stretch drive of American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby win, jockey Victor Espinoza used the crop more than 30 times. The Kentucky stewards found it acceptable.

The Jockeys’ Guild’s agreeing to halting the experiment is not open-ended.

“We will comply for the time being,” Meyocks said. “We want to do what’s best for the industry and the impact this could have. We’ve all got to look in the mirror to see if what we are doing is a positive.”

Meyocks said the cancellation is not a negotiating tactic or an indication the CHRB is willing to alter its stand. In fact, he sees no indication the CHRB is willing to negotiate.

Greg Avioli, president and chief executive of the TOC, did not return a message from The Times.

In a news release, Avioli said: “Jockeys, who take great personal risk every time they ride, are focused on safety and are vigilant caretakers of their horses. We appreciate the Guild’s willingness to continue to work with us on policy options to protect horses and riders while ensuring that races are run fairly for all participants.”

The jockeys at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields will be using a GT360 riding crop, which was tested at Keeneland this past weekend. Designed by jockey Ramon Dominguez, it is supposed to be lighter and better for both the jockeys and horses. Jockeys contend that the crops currently used are mostly just noisemakers and do not hurt the horse. They say it keeps the horse focused or can be used to direct them out of trouble.

However, the optics of a jockey hitting a horse are not good. Belinda Stronach, president and chief executive of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, introduced the idea of eliminating use of the whip in order to bolster confidence in the public that the sport was committed to reform.

The proposals came after 23 horses have died either in training or racing at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. However, Santa Anita has had one fatality in the last 27 training days and seven racing days, well below industry norms. The latest fatality came on the downhill turf course, which has since been closed for sprint racing.

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