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  • Writer's pictureMark Tamhane

Whip It Up

(from ABC NewsRadio's "Brekkie Crumbs" blog)

Scott Wales had a particular spring in his step when he breezed into the ABC NewsRadio office yesterday.

When I turned a raised eyebrow in his direction, he was quick to explain.

"First Group One race of the Spring Racing Carnival this Saturday!" my equine-mad colleague offered.

Officially Australia's premier race-fest doesn't begin until the 30th of September, but this weekend's 1800 meter Underwood Stakes at Caulfield is the ultimate curtain raiser, featuring two Melbourne Cup Winners (Viewed, Efficient), a Caulfield Cup winner (Master O'Reilly) , and a mouth-watering array of current top performers, including Whobegotyou, Heart of Dreams, Vigor, Typhoon Tracy, Predatory Pricer and Scenic Shot.

No wonder Scott's grinning from ear-to-ear.

You can be sure he and Debbie Spillane will dissect that race to bits this Sunday on Weekend Half-Time at 10am AEST on ABC NewsRadio.

But until Tuesday afternoon, there was a big cloud hanging over the Spring Racing Carnival, with jockeys threatening more industrial action unless the complicated rules governing the use of the whip in the final stages of a race were eased.

Under a deal hammered out between the Australian Jockeys Association and the body which regulates the rules of racing -- the Australian Racing Board -- jockeys can now use their discretion to strike their charges up to seven times consecutively in the final 100 meters to the post.

Jockeys and trainers insist the padded whips used don't actually hurt, but serve as an important reminder to well-trained horses to stay focused in the crucial last seconds of a race.

Good then, issue solved.....

Except it’s not that simple, according to the CEO of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, Peter McGauran.

The former Federal Agriculture Minister (whose long love-affair with horses and punting began when he was a boarder at Caulfield Grammar School and spent far too much time at the nearby racecourse) points out that there are still major racing integrity issues.

"What happens to the losing horse, particularly if it is a narrow margin, whereby the winning rider exceeded the set limit of seven strikes...perhaps eight...nine...but the losing rider adhered to the rules of racing and only struck the horse seven times?" he told ABC NewsRadio.

As Peter McGauran points out, the stewards can take sanctions -- including fines and suspension -- against naughty jockeys who won with one or two too many strikes of the whip....but under the current rules....THE RACE RESULT STILL STANDS.

And as someone who doesn't mind the occasional flutter (Editor's Note: this is an understatement) -- only to often see his favoured neddy beaten by a short half-head on the line - I reckon that's a real problem.

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