Jockeys will race under ‘hands and heels’ rules at this summer’s Racing League if organisers have their way. Whips may be carried but not used for ‘encouragement’.

The Racing League, a new initiative of Championship Horse Racing, will be televised and take place across six consecutive Thursday evenings in July and August. There will be six races per meeting and each team will have one runner in each race. Points will be awarded depending on where teams finish in each race, and added to a league table.

In the series, 12 teams will compete for a share in £1.8M in prize money.

Hands and heels racing rules have been regular fixtures in Britain thanks to the Racing Excellence series, part of the British Horseracing Authority’s accreditation program for apprentice jockeys.

In the Hands and Heels races, which include flat and jump races alike, a whip may be carried and used for safety reasons, but whip use for correction and encouragement is not allowed.

The Hands and Heel’s series are recognised by racehorse trainers and owners as an important element of a young jockey’s race riding career development. If they are applied by the Racing League, this will be the first time senior jockeys are restricted by the same whip rules.

Whip use continues to be a contentious issue for racing throughout the world. Around this time last year and in an attempt to improve public perception of racehorse welfare, the Californian Horse Racing Board (CHRB) announced they would limit whip use in the same way announced by the Racing League’s organisers. But despite being passed, such whip-use restrictions have never been implemented.

Whip rule breaches and inadequate penalties are a constant source of news, debate and discussion. And, while industry claims that the approved padded whips don’t hurt horses when used within the rules, the welts on last year’s Melbourne Cup winner, Vow And Declare, showed otherwise.

A growing number of racing insiders are calling for the sport to align all races with the Hands and Heels whip restrictions, arguing that at the very least, whipping is eroding the sport’s already tenuous social licence to operate.

Three quarters of Australians quizzed in a poll said they do not support the whipping of horses in racing. And research has shown whipping does not make horses run faster as they near the finish line.

The proactive move by Racing League organisers to align whip use to public expectations, is in line with a need to re-affirm the status of the sport of horse racing and refresh the audience.

However, although the British Horseracing Authority has sanctioned series, it is less clear that they will eventually allow the races to run under Hands and Heels rules. Read more in this article from the UK’s BBC and this article from The Guardian…

Warnings that punters will shy away from horse racing if whip use is restricted have never been tested. This British experience could provide some solid evidence of the impact.