* NOTE: This article is being included on our website
because, even though it doesn't condemn use of the whip, just questioning
its use is going further to raise awareness than most other periodicals
have. It is also a plus to be able to reference a NY Times article in
further horse racing articles and letters to the editor; for many, the NY
Times has 'credibility.'
April 30, 2004, Friday
By BILL FINLEY (NYT) 1203 words
LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 29 -- There are few things more
exciting in sports than the sight of a group of horses locked in battle in
the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby, each one charging toward the wire,
their talent and their will carrying them toward the finish line and, for
one, the most significant victory in the sport.
Laura Hillenbrand, the author of the best-selling
biography ''Seabiscuit: An American Legend'' will watch that scene unfold on
television from her home in Washington on Saturday along with millions of
others, but she will do so with mixed feelings.
Her attention will be focused not just on the beauty
and power of some of the best 3-year-olds in the world, but also on the
lashings many will be receiving from their jockeys, some of whom will be
flailing away relentlessly with their stiff leather whips. She said she
understood that it is part of the sport; for as long as anyone can remember,
jockeys have carried whips and have used them in an attempt to get
everything out of a horse that it has to offer. But Hillenbrand can't help
but wonder: Is there a better way?
''I think Triple Crown season is an ideal time for us
to take a second look at racing's attitude about the whip,'' she said in an
e-mail message. ''There are myriad reasons why many of us feel that the use
of the whip in racing needs to be changed, and one of them is that the
manner in which the whip is often used makes a presentation to the public
that many find offensive and repellent. It is in this season, when racing
draws the most public attention, that the sport ought to be thinking about
how it presents itself to the world, especially to potential new fans.''
The success of the ''Seabiscuit'' book and the
subsequent movie has given Hillenbrand a platform, and she intends to use
it. She does not advocate banning whipping in racing, but she believes that
its use should be limited and that there must be rules in place to make the
practice more humane. That, she says, would be better for the horses and for
a sport that risks turning off potential fans who don't want to see animals
subject to what could be viewed as punishment.
She said she was determined to find out everything she
can about the subject and come up with practical changes that will be
adopted by racing commissions across the country. She has been pleasantly
surprised to discover that many in the sport agree.
''It's the 21st century now,'' said Michael Dickinson,
the trainer of Tapit, one of the favorites in this
year's Derby. ''It's time that we came up with a more humane way of doing
Hillenbrand acknowledged that if jockeys were not
allowed to carry a whip their safety would be in jeopardy because they would
lose what can be a tool to control an unruly horse. It is the indiscriminate
way that the whips can be used that troubles her.
There are few rules in the United States controlling
the use of the whip, and the ones that are on the books are rarely enforced.
Some jockeys will overuse the whip, hitting their horses well after it is
apparent they have no chance to win a race or striking them with such
repeated force that they can cause unnecessary injury. At some of the
smaller tracks, where the jockeys may be riding with less finesse, it is not
uncommon to see a jockey hit a horse virtually every step of the race.
A positive step, Hillenbrand said, would be to
institute rules similar to the ones in Britain. There, jockeys are not
allowed to raise their arms above their shoulders when hitting a horse and
cannot hit them with excessive force or strike them when they are clearly
out of contention. Jockeys in Britain can be fined or suspended for whip
''I don't necessarily think any rules need to be
changed,'' said the retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who was a
consultant on the ''Seabiscuit'' film. ''I've explained that to Laura. We do
need to educate riders a little bit better and ask them to exercise a little
more common sense. No one should be coming down the stretch hammering away
on a horse. But say if you had a rule limiting how many times you could hit
a horse in the stretch, then how are you going to explain to the public if
that horse got beat by a nose and the jockey had to stop using the whip in
the stretch because he had already hit him so many times?''
The trainer Todd Pletcher, who will start Limehouse and
Pollard's Vision in the Derby, said: ''I think as a rule our jockeys do a
pretty good job of using the whip and not abusing it. I'm sure there are
some guys who get a little carried away, but I think as a rule our riders
use it well.''
Hillenbrand also advocates whips that do not cause
undue pain. The National Steeplechase Association, the governing body of
steeplechase racing in the United States, recently established a rule
requiring all jockeys to use specially made shock-absorbing whips.
Hillenbrand said she understood that the issue is
complicated, that she does not have all the answers and that there is no
solution that will make everyone happy. But she said the current system can
''I have encountered people who loved horses and horse
sports, but were revolted by racing because of whips,'' she said. ''I've
seen it in my own family. During the filming of the ''Seabiscuit'' movie, my
sister took my nieces to Santa Anita for the first time. One of my nieces, a
13-year-old who seemed to be falling for horse racing, saw the way in which
horses were being whipped and was horrified.''
Hillenbrand said she would take her recommendations to
state racing commissions, asking them to enact and enforce rules governing
the misuse of the whip. It is something she wants to do for the sport and
for the animals, whether they are Kentucky Derby runners or cheap claimers.
''One of the reasons that I'm doing this now is because
I realized that the success of my book has given me a voice in the
she said. ''I feel very strongly that I am in debt to
racehorses for so many wonderful things in my life, including my book, and I
want to give something back to them.''
CAPTIONS: Photos: Laura Hillenbrand, the author of ''Seabiscuit:
An American Legend,'' wants rules to make the use of whips more humane.
(Photo by Lauren Chelec/Random House)(pg. D4); Jockeys
like Javier Santiago, right, use stiff leather whips to urge their horses.
Critics say restrictions should be placed on the use
and design of the whips. (Photo by Associated Press); (Photo by Getty
Images) (pg. D1)
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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