Racing’s whip rules are once more to be the subject of heated debate, following the punishment meted out to Martin Harley for an obvious breach of them while winning on Gulliver at York on Saturday. Kulbir Sohi, owner of the runner-up, Tranchee, is outraged that a winner is allowed to keep the prize despite such significant rule-breaking and has written in complaint to the sport’s ruling body, urging a change in the rules and threatening legal action.
“I believe my horse Tranchee to have won the race within the permitted rules of racing,” Sohi writes in an email to the British Horseracing Authority, which he shared with The Guardian on Monday. “He has been disadvantaged by the winning jockey … breaching the whip rules and gaining a ‘performance enhancing’ advantage.
“I have taken legal advice and been asked to sue yourselves (at considerable cost) to protect the integrity of racing. As a registered owner of some 36 racehorses, where is my incentive to adhere to the rules you have laid out?”
The York stewards suspended Harley for nine days and fined him £1,350 for his breach. They did not specify how many times they found he had used his whip but Sohi’s belief is that it was 12 times, compared with a maximum of seven allowed under the rules of Flat racing, and that appears to be borne out by the footage.
In Sohi’s view, the punishment dished out to Harley “doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of a viable punishment” and he notes that the jockey’s percentage of the first-place prize money would more than cover the fine. “The rules as they stand incentivise all jockeys to gain an edge where big prize money rewards are on offer. This must be stopped immediately.”
I think Sohi might have found a better test case to bring before the BHA, since Gulliver won by two and a quarter lengths and the race seemed over before Harley’s final three uses of the whip. That, of course, makes it all the more regrettable that such an experienced jockey continued to use the whip in such circumstances. Sohi argues: “Gulliver did win by two lengths but it took for him to be struck in successive rapid fashion to put that clear distance between himself and the second.”
Behaviour like Harley’s makes it all the more likely that the BHA will have to tighten their whip rules once more. A spokesman for the ruling body said a consultation on whip use had been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis but is scheduled for next year.
“We would very much welcome the views of Mr Sohi as part of that consultation and encourage him to submit a response,” he added. “In the meantime, we would be happy to speak to Mr Sohi to discuss his concerns.”