The Professional Jockeys Association will meet the British Horseracing Authority on Friday to discuss the continuing controversy over the regulator's strict new rules on the use of the whip. Paul Bittar, who takes up his role as the BHA's new chief executive on Wednesday, will attend the meeting, which follows the latest PR debacle for the new regime in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton Park on Saturday.
The Lanzarote was won by Swincombe Flame, who got up to win by a nose after being gambled down to start as the 9-2 favourite from an early price of 9-1. While the winner's backers got paid, however, Will Kennedy, whose effort in the saddle was crucial to the success, did not, as he had used his whip 10 times in the finish, two strokes above the limit. One of Kennedy's strokes also landed in the wrong place behind the saddle, and in addition to a seven-day ban he also forfeited his share of the £25,000 first prize.
Kevin Darley, the outgoing president of the PJA, will lead the riders' delegation at the meeting on Friday, as the process of recruiting his successor continues. The date was fixed several weeks ago and is not expected to produce any immediate change in the rules, but it will still give the riders a valuable chance to emphasise to Bittar that, in their opinion, the new whip regime is still failing.
"It still very frustrating," Darley said on Sunday. "When the rules were amended in November, we felt that because the stewards had got the power to use a bit of discretion that might alleviate the problem, but obviously it hasn't.
"The guys that are riding winners at high-profile meetings are sportsmen at the top of their game and they're only doing what they feel is expected of them to stay as competitive as they can. I think we're a long way off with these rules, they're still not working as we at the PJA would like."
Kennedy's ban on Saturday came 48 hours after Robert Cooper, an amateur rider, received a 52-day suspension, the longest ever imposed for a whip offence, for a ride in which he hit his mount 23 times, while Robert Winston received a 22-day ban that same day.
"Whether you think that the penalty that Mr Cooper got is proportional or not, that kind of abuse of the whip is what I think the rules are there to stop," Darley said. "But at the top end, the likes of Will Kennedy and Timmy Murphy and one or two others have given horses fantastic rides and because they're one or two over the limit they're getting penalized."
The introduction of the new whip regime in October overshadowed the inaugural Champions Day on the Flat at Ascot in October and the continuing problems with the rules are a significant concern ahead of National Hunt's showpiece Festival meetings at Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring.
"We've got Cheltenham coming and all these great [National Hunt] horses we have at the moment and when they go and win their races they are what the headlines should be about," Darley said. "It's always the big days that make the headlines, and make the difference not only to the jockey but to the horse, the trainer and the owner. The rules are compromising competitiveness, which is detrimental to the sport."