TOP trainer Ferdy Murphy has told jockeys to “stop whingeing” after they won a second set of concessions governing the controversial use of the whip.
The British Horseracing Authority’s climbdown, which follows recent high-profile suspensions to AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh, negates any possibility of possible protest action at Cheltenham’s high-profile Open meeting which begins today.
Both jockeys, widely regarded as two of the best National Hunt riders of all time, received five-day bans for hitting horses nine times – one more than the permitted limit of eight in jump races.
Although this benchmark will remain in place – it is seven strikes for Flat races – the BHA hopes less draconian punishments, and more discretion for raceday stewards, will prevent embarrassing episodes that saw the likes of McCoy and Walsh banned for five days after riding near-perfect races in the eyes of many.
Yet, with the Professional Jockeys Association only giving a lukewarm response to the changes, West Witton-based Murphy – a perennial winner at Cheltenham’s National Hunt Festival – says riders must accept the new rules without further complaint.
“It is up to the jockeys to stop whingeing and to get on with it,” he told the Yorkshire Post.
“I am very disappointed with the weakness shown by the BHA – they have been led up the garden path by the jockeys.
“I’m old school. When I started out with Paddy Mullins in Ireland, Fred Winter and Fulke Walwyn dominated here. They never allowed their horses to be beat up.
“Horsemanship won the day, and that must happen now. The ironic thing now is that, since the rules came in, a number of jockeys have told me that their horses run better when they put the whip down.
“This can’t go on, however. I was in favour of the original changes. If there are any more concessions, we might as well give up and put the jockeys in charge.”
BHA chairman Paul Roy said: “In terms of the specific rules and penalties themselves, it has always been our position that we will constantly monitor how jockeys are adapting.
“If by making adjustments we can achieve behavioural change more effectively, then as a responsible regulator we should do that.”
The changes were welcomed by bookmaker Paddy Power – sponsors of the prestigious Open meeting, including tomorrow’s Paddy Power Gold Cup.
A spokesman said: “Recent suspensions to Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy have served to highlight how unworkable the whip rules were. The absence of leading riders for minor violations is only to the detriment of the sport.”
As for McCoy, the 16-time champion, he predicted a “long winter” – and feared for his sport’s future – after striking the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Caddie Master on Sunday at Ffos Las as the pair were denied by Frontier Dancer by a short head.
“Caddie Master would probably have won six weeks ago but that’s the way it is,” said McCoy at the time.
However, PJA chief executive Kevin Darley, the 2000 champion Flat jockey, still has reservations – even though he negotiated many of the latest changes with the BHA.
“This has been the most challenging time for jockeys for many decades, and jockeys have shown considerable restraint in recent weeks,” said the North Yorkshire-based official.
“These changes are a step in the right direction, but we have no doubt that there is still more to be done. In particular, the PJA will continue to press the BHA concerning the period that minor offences remain on a jockeys’ record. Twelve months is far too long.”
And former Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Andrew Thornton, a member of the PJA Board, added: “I just hope a big part is played in discretion for a slap down the shoulder here and a flick behind the saddle there to get away from the back of hurdles and straightening up to basically to get a horse’s concentration.
“We shouldn’t be watching and counting. That’s not how racing works.”
What are the new rules?
Any rider now going one strike over the allowed limit will receive a two-day ban and not the current five.
The punishment for a second offence in a 12-month period will be doubled from two to four days, and not from five to 10.
Raceday stewards will have powers to review video evidence, and listen to jockeys, before deciding whether any uses of the whip could be disregarded on safety grounds.
Jockeys will not be banned from Grade/Group One races if their ban is four days or less.
The changes take effect from today.