Cheltenham Festival Sports News

Opinion | Gold Cup winner Richard Johnson’s whip fine just an ‘inconvenience’ as racing rules continue to be neglected by BHA

Read all of the headlines and hear about the fantastic, the brave and the incredible Native River who the national hunt’s most prestigious prize, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

It was a memorable battle down the famous Cheltenham hill, and as Richard Johnson flew over the last and grinded out a four-and-a-half length victory over favourite Might Bite, it looked like a victory that would go down as one of the greats.

As Johnson and Native River returned to the winner’s enclosure, he was greeted to a huge cheer from a packed out crowd – what seemed a perfected lesson in world-class jockeyship, actually broke the rules.

According to official racing rules, a jockey can use the whip no more than eight times in a jump race, only watch the final run-in and this number has been well exceeded.

Following the Gold Cup, the British horse racing authority (BHA) hit the champion jockey with a seven day whip ban and a £6,500 fine. But not because he broke that rule, because he broke another one!

Over the penultimate fence he taps the horse just on the right side of his neck, and this prompted the BHA to take action – even though he did break two rules.

According to a report Johnson broke the BHA rules when “using his whip above the permitted level from approaching the second last fence.”

His seven day ban will see him miss mid-week visits to Worcester, Cartmel and Plumpton – possibly missing a few rides and a few winners, but no real financial loss and he’s hardly going to miss any significant or important rides.

His punishment is hardly a deterrent, would Johnson ride Native River exactly the same? Probably. The BHA’s ruling is more of an inconvenience than anything.

The fine was hefty and I am sure it’s not the ideal way to end a Gold Cup winning day, but in a sport dominated by the rich, fines are never a real hard-hitting punishment.

So if Native River has won ‘unfairly’ does this mean he should still win the race. Technically he won whilst breaking the rules, so does that mean the horse should be disqualified or is that a step too far?

It would cause total uproar in the racing world and it’s many circles, and this resulting would and probably shouldn’t happen. Much more needs to be done, because quite frankly jockeys know they can get away with a few extra few whips, and if they break the law a fine is no more than a tad annoying.

What would really enforce the rules is to make bans at the same festival. So Johnson couldn’t ride in say two races at next year’s Festival, and the thought of missing the 2019 Gold Cup would certainly give him something to think about.

But likewise, this type of punishment will never happen as the Cheltenham Festival is such a prestigious event and losing key jockeys would never interest the high order of the BHA.

In my numerous years in racing I have learnt one things, initiative is great but it seldom goes very far. The racing crowd and the racing rules seem pretty set in stone, the same races are run on the same week of the same month; racing rarely changes and I hardly doubt this will change.

According to a report from Animal Aid, apparently 75% of riders who finish first and second in a race have broken regulations, a figure embarrassing the BHA and highlighting the huge amount of consisent repeat offending. What is the point of a rule if it is broken, and why are some cases fine and some cases not?

Richard Johnson is a talented jockey, a fantastic servant to the sport and there are few jockeys who deserve this win the Gold Cup more than him. His whip use was wrong, and he is facing some sort of punishment; but apart from that he was truly faultless.

In this case a hit on the neck isn’t worth anything too serious, and it only impacted the result of a race by a small margin. Our jockeys shouldn’t always fear the regulations, but if these rules are being made then they should at least enforced a lot better as the figures are nothing less than completely ridiculous.

Richard Johnson made a mistake and he knows it, take nothing away from him and Native River. They were totally superb and deserve all the praise they get. However a lot more needs to be done by the BHA, the negligence to these rules are just ridiculous.


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