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KHRC Committee Approves Latest Crop Rule Amendment

Jockeys would be limited to six instances of overhanded use of the crop at anytime.

Anne M. Eberhardt

After a proposed riding crop amendment approved last June by Kentucky Horse Racing Commission committees was not advanced, another proposed amendment appears able to move forward after being approved May 3 by the KHRC Rules Committee.

The latest proposed amendment is a compromise that comes after several meetings between the KHRC, riders, and the Jockeys' Guild.

As explained by the KHRC's general counsel Jennifer Wolsing, the amendment would allow the crop to be used in backhanded or underhanded fashion from the three-eighths pole to the finish line, allow a jockey to tap their horse on the shoulder in the down position as long as both hands are on the reins and on the shoulders of the horse, and would allow for the showing and waving of the crop in front of the horse. Wolsing added the amendment would also limit jockeys to six instances of overhanded use of the crop at anytime, the overhand use of the crop cannot go above the rider's helmet, and the rider would not be able to use the crop in the overhand fashion more than two successive instances without giving the horse a chance to respond. 

The amendment would also update the penalties for a jockey that violates the riding crop rule. Stewards would be able to impose a minimum $500 fine, a minimum three-day suspension, or both if they believe the violation is egregious or intentional, Wolsing said.

A first offense against Kentucky's current whip rule typically results in a $250 fine.

Terry Meyocks, CEO and president of the Jockeys' Guild, was present at the virtual meeting and hopes the proposed amended rule can help create uniformity for riders across North America. 

"We have been trying for the last several years to have a uniform riding crop rule in North America, which a rule would then encompass not only safety for the riders but for the horses as well; and also a rule that benefits our industry moving forward," Meyocks said.

"I think it's important to remember that a number of our riders—Johnny Velazquez, Mike Smith, Julien Leparoux, Javier Castellano, Joe Bravo—along with other members of the Guild and our staff involved were dealing with regulators, stewards, and track management throughout the country," he continued, "and having different rules in so many different various states is no good for anybody.

"Ideally if the Kentucky Racing Commission were to adopt this rule, then we could work on a uniform rule throughout North America."

Chief state steward Barbara Borden gave the amendment a nod from a steward's perspective on penalties.

"There are many times we struggle with the mandatory penalties that are scattered throughout our regulations and don't always give us discretion when we feel like we need it. In this instance, we're pleased with the way this is written, that we have a baseline to start with, and should a person violate a regulation over and over again, we like the penalties that escalate, particularly if we feel like it's an egregious offense or if we feel like somebody's just ignoring the regulation," she said. "This seems to give us the latitude to increase the penalty as warranted or assess the penalty that we think is reasonable, which sometimes may be the minimum, even if it's more than one offense. We appreciate the fact that it's not completely mandatory in escalating penalties in the event that we think that's not warranted."

Whips at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.  on October 22, 2020.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

KHRC executive director Marc Guilfoil said they would strive for uniformity with other states regarding riding crop rules. He also noted Wolsing would be able to give notice about a month or two before the proposed rule would go into effect so the KHRC can begin talking to jockeys about the new rule and expectations so that they are prepared for the changes once the rule would be in place.

When a question arose on defending the proposed amendment, Wolsing said she believes the six-strike rule is legally defensible. 

"As we know the Kentucky constitution bans arbitrary and capricious actions by state government agencies. However, at some point you have to have a certain number of strikes," she said. "This is a number that has been adopted by other jurisdictions as well. It's a very reasonable number that people came to taking into consideration what would be appropriate for both the jockeys as well as the horses."

The approved amendment will be up for a vote when the full commission meets next June 15.

"This didn't just happen overnight," said KHRC and Rules Committee member Charlie O'Connor. "It's been a work in progress for a long time and we all gave and took a little bit more than we initially wanted. But at the end of the day, we're all in this to work together. We're all on the same team and I'm just very happy that we've come up with this once-and-for-all rule that we'll all be happy with."