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News from Europe

Jockey Hughes takes a stand against the whip rule

By Tom Krish


Richard Hughes won the 5:50 (pm) at Kempton Park (an all weather course) on Thursday with Regal Gold, a two year-old trained by Richard Hannon. After riding at Brighton earlier in the day, Hughes had made the trip to Kempton, a course located outside London. Then came the 7:20 at Kempton and Hughes was aboard More Than Words, a freshman filly from the Hannon yard. More Than Words was the favorite in a six-furlong maiden race. Hughes tracked the leaders and chose the path along the fence to make his bid. He could not collar Lexington Pearl, an Elusive Quality filly who was making a winning debut.

The stewards held that jockey Hughes had struck More Than Words six times inside the final furlong. On Monday, the day the new whip rules went into effect, Hughes had been given a five-day ban for a ride on Swift Blade who took third. The Thursday incident at Kempton, according to the guidelines, brought in a 10-day ban and took Hughes’ punishment to 15 days.

The Racing Post described Hughes as one incandescent with rage. “I am giving up my license. I can’t ride horses knowing that I’m not doing myself and the owners who pay 100 (pounds) a time, justice. I’d rather sweep roads than do half a job,” he spoke out.

There were two rides left for Hughes in the Kempton Park card. He handed over his license and informed the stewards that he was going home. The stewards slapped jockey Hughes with a 290-pound fine for not fulfilling his commitments.

What is the immediate consequence? There are three meetings on Friday in England, Redcar, Haydock and Wolverhampton. Hughes will not be riding. He will also miss Champions’ Day at Ascot on Saturday. Finally, his ride on Strong Suit in the Breeders’ Cup Mile is off the table.

The Hughes fiasco came up soon after Paul Roy, Chairman of the British Horseracing Authority, had made a statement about a review of the penalties since Monday.

Jockey Hughes explained his position. “I am not a whip jockey. They are taking the art of race-riding away from me. I was always told as a young jockey the last jockey who goes for his whip normally wins. They have set a trap for us there by taking away the art of race riding. I feel I can’t do my owners justice.”

The new rule says that flat (race) jockeys cannot hit horses more than seven times in a race. In the last furlong, the whip cannot be used more than five times. A ban is what will be imposed. The jockey, guilty of an infraction, also loses the mount fee and the percentage of the prize money. In England, jockeys, as a rule, get seven and one half percent. An agent in the UK gets 13 percent from the jockey.

Martin Dwyer, Derby-winning jockey in the 2006 Epsom Derby, called the whip rules a ‘disgrace.’ “It does not fit the crime. It is like getting 15 years for nicking a loaf of bread,” Martin said.

William Buick, well known to American racegoers, was blunt. “We can count. We are not stupid. We ride on instinct and the feel of a race. Are we to tell the Americans that our premier rider will not be on Strong Suit because he hit a horse seven times? They are going to laugh and it is ridiculous.”

The reaction to the new rules has been vocal and strong. A review of the penalties so far is one thing. The jockeys are calling for a review of the rules.

Jamie Spencer is a name American fans ought to be familiar with. “I am dreading Champions’ Day. I have two horses, Excelebration and Fame And Glory whose stud careers are on the line. I want to try my best. I feel sorry for Richard Hughes,” Spencer stated.

Racing Post and newspaper headlines are highlighting the whip rule controversy. It is a distraction from the glamour that Champions’ Day at Ascot is supposed to generate. The stand that jockey Hughes has taken is sure to cause a serious ‘rethink’ of the rules.

London is having a long dry spell. Chris Stickels, Clerk of Course at Ascot, has said that ‘good to firm’ will be the order of the day. Saturday’s forecast calls for bright skies.

Frankel continues to be the 1/3 favorite in the Q E II Stakes. So You Think is the 2-1 market leader in the Champion Stakes and is opposed by Nathaniel, winner of the King George at Ascot in late July. Opinion Poll and Fame And Glory are joint favorites in the Long Distance Cup. Deacon Blues is the 9/4 choice in the Sprint. Vita Nova has the most support in the Fillies-Mares Champions Stakes.

A headline in the Racing Post caught my attention. Immortal Verse takes on Frankel in the Q E II Stakes. A three year-old filly trained by Chantilly-based Robert Collet, Immortal Verse conquered Goldikova in the Prix Jacques le Marois. Trainer Collet has been showing considerable optimism. “Can Immortal Verse make Frankel look mortal?”

 


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