LOS ANGELES -- The California Horse Racing Board, faced with a crisis over a spike in equine deaths, on Thursday voted to implement the most stringent use of the riding crop by jockeys in North America.
The riding crop, or whip, has not been proved to be a factor in the series of deaths, but the optics of a jockey hitting a horse repeatedly has been one of the things that has turned some public sentiment against horse racing.
Under the new rule a horse cannot be struck more than two consecutive times without giving the horse a chance to respond. Currently in California it is three times, in New York it is seven times and at some jurisdictions, such as Kentucky, there is no limit.
Under the proposed California rule, a horse can't be struck more than six times in a race, unless for safety reasons. No other state has a limit on the number of times a horse can be struck in a race.
In addition, the jockeys must use the crop in the underhand position and it cannot be raised above the shoulder. The jockey can show the horse the crop and tap them on the shoulder. Woodbine, a race track in Toronto, experimented with a rule similar to this for two months recently.
"We just passed the most restrictive whip rule in North America and maybe in the world," said Greg Ferraro, a veterinarian who is the chairman of the CHRB. "I realize at this time no one is happy, including me. But we've gotten to the point where we had to move. Somebody has to be first. We'd like to see a national rule and we'd certainly support it."
The CHRB had hoped to adopt something shared by the newly created national Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, but the group could not come to any agreement on a crop rule.
However, it's not a certainty this rule will actually be put in place. Under the regulatory process in California there is a multi-month process, which includes a 45-day public comment period, before it comes before the board for a final vote. During that time, and at the meeting it is voted on, the board will listen to other proposals.
The 87 minutes of discussion on this rule started with Ferraro telling the group he didn't want to hear how bad the two proposals were that were to be voted on.
"We know they are bad," Ferraro said.