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Cheltenham Festival winner to be KO’d by new whip rules?

| 28.02.2023

Coral are offering 3/1 for any of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival winners to subsequently be disqualified due to the controversial new whip rules.

Lunar Discovery became the first horse to be demoted under fresh guidelines brought in on February 13.

Charlotte Jones was found to have used her whip 11 times when beaten a head into second on Jimmy Moffatt’s charge at Ayr.

She breached the seven-stroke limit by four, with the Whip Review Committee stating “none of the hits were clearly and unequivocally for safety purposes”.

Jones was also banned for 14 days, while Lorcan Williams became one of the higher-profile names to fall foul of the regulations.

Williams, who is attached to champion trainer Paul Nicholls’ stable, was given an 18-day ban and fined £1,050 for his winning ride on Makin’yourmindup at Haydock. That was a Grade Two contest, which meant that the severity of his punishment was increased.

The fear now is that jockeys will be swayed by the championship trophies and lucrative handicap prizes up for grabs at Cheltenham and tempted into more infringements of the whip rules.

Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer, declared: “There is simply no excuse for using the whip four or more times above the permitted level.

“It was always likely that the disqualification rule would need to be invoked in the early stages of the implementation of the new rules. We hope that this sends a clear message to all jockeys and reinforces this deterrent effect.”

David Jones, chair of the Whip Consultation Steering Group, added: “The new rules are based on recommendations which were put to the BHA Board by a Steering Group which consisted of expertise drawn from across the racing industry and beyond, including prominent jockeys and trainers.

“They were unanimous in agreement that changes must be made to ensure more judicious use of the whip for encouragement, and improve the perception of whip use.”

Jones continued: “Jockeys consulted were in agreement that increased penalties were necessary.

“This is not about appeasing those who wish to see the sport banned, or attempting to convert them. It is instead about ensuring that racing takes control of its own destiny, and ensuring that we safeguard the sport against changing perceptions amongst its future audiences.

“Racing has so much to be proud about. We all look forward to celebrating the magnificent horses and people and the wonderful stories that our sport produces in the coming weeks.”

There seems to be a very realistic prospect of disqualifications at Cheltenham due to the new whip rules though and it is a serious concern for those involved.

Top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott told the Racing Post: “It’s scary and something that really worries me.

“It’s something that I actually lie in bed thinking about at night, that you could win a Gold Cup and then lose it the following week. That’s scary.

“For the Irish lads riding at Cheltenham, it’s going to be very tricky.”

Gordon Elliott, top Cheltenham Festival trainer

He added: “I’d hate to be going back and watching a replay of a race I’ve won at Cheltenham and counting the strikes and wondering how many strikes there have been. Like a slap down the shoulder is considered a strike now.

“Someone very, very shrewd said to me the other day that they will be shocked if there is not a horse disqualified at Cheltenham.”

A total of 20 riding suspensions were incurred during the first week under the new whip rules.

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Andrew McDermott

Andrew is a sports betting content journalist at PA Media. He is a lifelong Huddersfield Town fan but when he isn't reminiscing about their Premier League days he is also a junior cricket coach and enjoys cycling.