Racing Victoria’s contentious position on the use of the whip by jockeys will escalate to the next level over summer with a proposal for a series of whip free races culminating in a “final” on All Star Mile day at Moonee Valley.
Details are still to be confirmed but I am aware of a proposal to run a series of benchmark races at country and provincial tracks where jockeys will carry, but not be allowed to use the whip.
To reinforce RV’s determination to “modernise” the perception of the whip, RV confirmed to me today that “the potential to trial whip-free races is one of those (options), but there have been no decisions made on that, or any other options at this time.”
“As we had expressed previously when commenting on whip use, there are a number of options that Victoria could consider to progress the discussion on whip reform. These include things such as conducting customer research and other activity to provide insight and data,” an RV spokesman told me.”
Such customer research came in the form of a study conducted by Data2Decisions (part of the worldwide Dentsu Group), revealed last week in The Age newspaper which said 56 per cent of 1851 people questioned believed the whip should be banned and 87 per cent agreed that the whip should be limited to no more than four strikes a race, on direct questioning.
But the possible step to staging a series of races where the whip is “banned” from use will rapidly accelerate participant’s positioning on the matter, as much as public response to the issue.
Are jockeys’ non-winners in this situation? If they refuse to support any such trial through a proposed series, are they seen as “pro-whip”. If they concur and ride, which they will, what issues may arise in a tight finish where a jockey reaches for the whip for “encouragement”? We still can’t get stewards to allow over use of the whip to turnover a protest.
If RV programs significant prizemoney backed races as part of the series at the provincials and in the country, those jockeys can seize the opportunities (but without using the whip). But will those jockeys be part of the play if the series culminates in “the final” at The Valley.
So, if the “trial” is successful is the Jeanie out of the bottle and is there no way back in Victoria in its current go it alone policy on the whip?
What impact will a potential whip free series have on wagering and the same questions can be asked – will punters support it, will they not care and bet anyway and if so, underline RV’s position on elimination of the whip as anything but a safety tool that will not affect the industry’s bottom line.
RV, as far back as February has put a line in the sand in its whip position, and at this stage it is set to go it alone, but this whip free race proposal will place them more on their own all-but deserted island.
RV put their position on the Racing Australia board table last month, and then on hold as RA conducts its own review, and at this stage it seems they have not garnered much sympathetic support.
RV wants to limit the use of the whip to a maximum number of between five and eight times in a race to alter the current five times in non-consecutive strides prior to the 100m mark and at the rider’s discretion in the final 100m of a race.
RV believes that the current national whip rules are no longer appropriate, however they do not call for the abandonment of carrying the whip, but for safety purposes only.
There were two pieces of research conducted by Data2Decisions for RV, with other findings revealing that 70 per cent of “non-customers” said the whip should be banned, compared to 35 per cent of the racing audience.
“The research sample is representative of the Australian population (i.e. male/female, young/old, different states – minimum age of 18) and categorises people either as customers – those who have attended, watched or placed a bet on thoroughbred racing in the past 12 months – or non-customers, being those that had not. Across the two studies there have been a bit over 2,000 racing customers collectively surveyed,” RV said.
“Whether people wish to believe it or not, the research identifies that there are a number of current and potential customers who do not support the use of the whip in racing and/or wish to see its usage reduced. It is pertinent to remember that we are talking about the views of customers, not licensed participants.”
And of course, all of this is run alongside another high-profile RV and Victoria Racing Club inquiry into the alarming amount of catastrophic injuries to horses in the Melbourne Cup as well as international competitors in the spring carnival, the focus as broad ranging as the Werribee training facility to veterinary checks in UK quarantine and much more, but not expected to solidify a position before the first quarter of 2021.
And all of this is to do with dealing with the public perception of major issues facing the sport and the industry as a whole, but both shining bright lights on them at the same time, seemingly unapologetically, in Victoria, via it’s governing body at least.
Last week’s column lead highlighting the failure of Racing Australia to support individual sponsorship for jockeys ignited much discussion, most positive, some a little ill-informed.
There is no push for the rich jockeys to get richer – though in the real world, market forces determine corporate value.
This is about any jockey sharing any potential partnership with all jockeys via their Trust as well as the industry via contributions to equine welfare. Any potential “conflict of interest” with a current industry sponsor was also addressed in the proposal.
This is as much about sponsorship and growing the stars of the industry, a proposition which may lead to new partnerships in challenging times.
Look at leading trainer Chris Waller last week, proudly and rightly so highlighting his ongoing partnership with Mercedes-Benz of Parramatta.
Richard Freedman took it a step further – sponsor the horse!
Glen Boss, certainly the right man for the job in terms of marketing and promotions, rang in support of the sentiment and mentioned his first car sponsor was Lexus, well before they had any commercial interest in racing. They of course are now the partner for Australia’s most famous race The Lexus Melbourne Cup, after previous long term partners Emirates and Carlton And United departed the game.
Boss is now a Maserati ambassador but can see the value of opportunity. “I go and speak and engage at events throughout the year and spread the message of racing for the greater good, who knows where that might lead, we have to be able to promote our sport and I’m all for the jockeys like Jye McNeil and ladies like Rachel King and Jamie Kah flying the flag.”
I’ve been pushing the industry using, and Jye capitalising on his famous Melbourne Cup victory and I’m pleased that he has a business manager – John Kanga, working through possible corporate opportunities with pet companies, pyjama retailers and airlines, each or any of which would benefit himself, but other jockeys, the trust and equine welfare.
And any of these partnerships would be much better leveraged if the jockey was allowed to brand in a race or on a racecourse.
Hamish Sterling, a high-profile graphic designer has worked on a trading card for McNeil and others believing there is not only a corporate branding association with a series of cards, in a field that is dynamic across a variety of age groups right now.
The Jye McNeil – Twilight Payment trading card. Photo: Sterling Graphic Design
Again a portion of the sale of any such jockey trading cards would be shared with the NJT to ensure benefits for the industry as a whole not as just an individual but another way of engaging the sport with its fan and customer base.
A Brisbane based company Fan Fave, established by Brett Clulow has promoted a series of products for jockeys and trainers as well as some owners.
Clare Lindop is on the Fan Fave list, though not a current jockey, and is an outspoken advocate for jockey welfare and supportive of any initiative to help riders, and in turn the sport.
“I promoted racing wherever I went and spoke, and I look back now and thought if I had an agent back then, how much I could have made and how much I could have promoted more,” Lindop said.
“My message has been and always is – follow your dreams, not put them in a box.”
Lindop, still a public speaker through the Pick Star group, says now is the right time for the discussion about jockey’s sponsor to be had, as much about the industry as jockey welfare and opportunity.
“Intellectual property, sponsorship, and official merchandise are all elements which I believe Jockeys should be allowed to have a say in their own destiny,” she wrote in a blog on the Fan Fave sight.
“In 2020 we see the silks sponsorship promoting the National Jockeys Trust. Is it now time to allow individual riders to seek their own sponsors?
“I believe even one leg and the backside could be allowed to be for an individual rider to seek sponsorship, or even another charity you wished to champion.”
I have mentioned here before the work that England’s champion rider Oisin Murphy does to promote racing via his management company M3 Media.
He was at it again this week with fellow jockeys “Aussie” Tom Marquand, Cieren Fallon and Grace Mcentee in a Christmas cooking bake off in Newmarket, another way of normalising, humanising or just engaging jockeys with the fans and perhaps in turn a broader community that might learn to know them more.
It’s worth watching and well held together by Matt Chapman, full of his double entendre hosting and Gina Bryce.
So in this week’s edition of Wayne’s World, we deal with his (that’s Wayne Hawkes of course) call to end Moonee Valley night meetings by 9pm, not 10pm. It was met with a swift rebuke and wagering figures to match and debunk from The Valley CEO Michael Browell.
Wayne’s view was that finishing late had the track as a “ghost town”, well they have been for the last eight months with COVID fan bans, and “how many people are actually watching.”
Fellow trainer Matt Ellerton responded in support of Wayne, but highlighted the issue facing participants and the industry rather than viewers and ratings.
It follows something raised by young Scone based trainer Will Freedman, son of Richard, re days off around Christmas, so staff could spend more time with their families and extrapolated into discussion re jockeys having Boxing Day off so they could lap up the festive day.
In typical Freedman fashion, the responses were polarising and in typical Freedman fashion, Will embraced such, but also doubted there would be any change to the status quo anytime soon.
While the world Turf Championships in Hong Kong were another stunning success for the leadership at the Jockey Club under Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges, winners from Ireland and Japan and local star, Australian bred-New Zealand sold Golden Sixty cemented his claim on the world stage, there was a race in Japan with a stunning and exquisite result on Sunday.
Is this the first white horse in the world to win a Group 1 race – her name is Sodashi, her mother Bushiko was a legend in Japan (not just for the appaloosa type markings but her behaviour and performances) and now her daughter is an equine superstar to Japan’s enthusiastic race fans. And what a win.
Not only was there an isolated camera on her but there is a 90-minute documentary on her available on YouTube.
And on the undercard at Sha Tin was the debut performance in Hong Kong of the former Richard Laming trained Master Montaro, bought off a stunning Pakenham maiden win for $1.5m for clients of David Hayes who then had to run him again to get his qualifying rating up and they did so to similar effect at Geelong in May.
A gamble, yes at the time, but not after this Class 3 Hong Kong debut on Sunday. And his time was comparable to Hong Kong Sprint winner Danon Smash who ran 1.08.45s for the 1200m (last 400m in 22.9s) v Master Montaro 1.08.97s (22.96s).
And to a point – do you ever hear in Hong Kong, a horse wasn’t suited to the way the track raced today? No, it doesn’t happen, a spectacularly cared for track and true tempo in most races. But Master Montaro will be winning more.
And highlighting a massive day for Swettenham Stud stallion Toronado and a clutch of opportunistic retweets.