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BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
Respected former steward John Schreck speaks to The Report about his views on the whip issue.
John Schreck, the esteemed former Sydney and Hong Kong chief steward, has applauded the ‘foresight’ and ‘courage’ of the British Horseracing Authority’s new approach to the use of the whip in races, but there is one significant caveat to his praise.
“I vehemently disagree with the suggestion that horses that are excessively whipped should be disqualified,” Schreck told The Report.
The BHA revealed the new rules last month with an autumn implementation in the pipeline. Jockeys in Britain will have to use the whip in the backhand position only; will be afforded seven uses of the whip during a race; will face a doubling of penalties should they breach the rules in major races; and a horse will be disqualified if a jockey strikes with the whip four times or more above the permitted limit of seven.
“I think the general thing they have done in Britain regarding the whip, they should be highly-commended for it; that is to try and reduce whip use themselves rather than have it forced upon the sport by somebody outside, which will inevitably happen if the sport doesn’t do something itself,” he said.
“But my view is that if someone breaches a rule, the penalties for breaching that rule should be visited upon those who so breach it.”
Schreck earned the nickname ‘The Sheriff’ during an almost 50-year career as a racing steward, during which time he banked a deep knowledge of the sport and its regulations. He led the clean-up after the infamous Fine Cotton ‘ring-in’ scandal and has been mentor to a good number of senior stewards, notably the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s current no-nonsense chief, Kim Kelly, and New South Wales’ chief steward Mark Van Gestel.
John Schreck pictured in Hong Kong in 2002. (Photo by Dickson Lee/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)
“With the disqualification element to the rule in England, the people who are going to be penalised are the people up in the stand: the owners, who have done nothing wrong; the trainer who is up in the stand who has done nothing wrong; and the punters who have backed the horse and have done nothing wrong,” Schreck continued.
“The horse is going to be disqualified and they will all lose money and haven’t participated in the breach of the rule in any way at all. I just can’t get my head around why you would do that. In that sort of way, they’ve gone too far.”
But Schreck was full of praise for the BHA’s general move to act on the whip and make changes he believes are necessary.
There’s no choice for the sport but to restrict the number of hits.
“I agree 100 percent with what the English have done. Seven hits is enough: they can use the seven hits out of the barrier, at the beginning of a race, or at the end of the race, wherever they like, but that’s the restricted number of hits they have. There’s no choice for the sport but to restrict the number of hits,” he said.
“People say they’re doing too much in England and that it’s just crazy what they’ve done; they say just ignore the do-gooders and they’ll all go away. Society has moved on a lot from that philosophy, that’s not good enough for the public anymore.”
The whip remains a contentious issue in racing. (Photo by Getty Images)
Schreck is clear, though, that his views on whip use are tied primarily to the welfare of the horses rather than to the public perception factor.
“The actual welfare issue is at the top of the tree,” Schreck said. “You’ll hear people say that in Australia today they use the padded whips that don’t hurt the horses. Why would they hit the horses if they don’t hurt them? Of course it hurts them.”
In Britain, all jockeys must use the Procush whip for ‘encouragement’ – ‘as an aid to activate and focus the horse’ – and must not use it for ‘coercion’.
“The reason they use whips is to inflict pain and try and make the animal do more than it was doing without that pain being inflicted upon it,” he continued.
“Go and stand beside a nice little chestnut filly and you’ll see a fly land on the shoulder and it can’t get its head down to brush the fly away so it will jerk its skin; you’ll see a fly land on a little filly’s rump and you’ll see it immediately swish its tail to get rid of that fly, that’s how sensitive their skin is. To say these whips that they use now don’t hurt them is just so wrong and nobody should fall into that: of course the whip hurts, that’s why it’s used.
To say these whips that they use now don’t hurt them is just so wrong and nobody should fall into that: of course the whip hurts, that’s why it’s used.
“It doesn’t hurt a cow so much or a bullock because their hide is thick and used for saddles and bridles and all, but the hide of a horse is so fine, you can see the veins through the skin. People shouldn’t say that the whip doesn’t hurt them because all they’re doing is kidding themselves really.”
Schreck also said he felt ‘embarrassed’ that he ‘did so little’ to address the whip issue during his career, yet he does not believe the whip should be banned outright.
“What I’m saying now probably contradicts myself a little bit but I think a jockey should always carry a whip,” he said, noting that riders can be put in dangerous situations in which they would need a whip to help control an errant mount or face serious injury themselves.
“I used to think whips would be done away with but I’m starting to go away from that a little bit. But restricting the number of hits a rider does use with the whip that he carries is absolutely essential.
“You can’t argue against safety in horse racing and you can’t argue these days against the welfare of the animal, you just can’t. It’s just a silly argument to try and run.”
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