On Saturday April 6th, the article written by Cristina Wilkins on the Santa Anita whip reforms was quoted on the front cover of The Weekend Australian Review's Sport section by award winning journalist Patrick Smith. Our investigations into the situation in California's racetracks and our reports on horse sports sustainability and social licence to operate are having an impact beyond our regular readership.
In an elegant and heartfelt article, Smith has knitted beautifully the excitement and expectations we all hold of watching racehorses win races, with the perils of a sport that these days is making more headlines for corruption scandals, horse deaths and other welfare issues - like the use of the whip.
While we all expect Winx to finish her racing career this coming Saturday unbeaten, and wish her all the best, Smith says: "Winx may not even be alive come 3.05pm next week. In a gentle gallop between now and the Queen Elizabeth, Winx might snap a leg..." "One moment you dare to dream" says Smith, "one more stride you feel hollowed out." "Fate could have had Winx at another place. Another life. The perils of modern racing have been there for all to see at Santa Anita, California, this new season."
Smith is referring to the tragic spike in horse leg fractures leading to euthanasia in California's racetracks. On 31st March, the 23rd horse since Christmas suffered a leg fracture while racing on the turf track and was euthanised. While some of the focus is on the track conditions, all experts and insiders agree that the causes of the spike in fractures is multifactorial and a portion of the responsibility lies in the leniency of medication rules in US racing.
All this prompted the Santa Anita racetrack owners to conduct the most comprehensive evaluation of all existing safety measures and current protocols, including the aspects that damage the image of racing and threaten the sport's social licence to operate, such as the use of the whip.
The whip rule being introduced in California is the most progressive yet, and it is expected to pass without further amendments after the 45-day mandatory cooling off period. For once, the rule details match the public's expectations on animal welfare: jockeys cannot strike horses with the whip in any way except if they feel it is necessary for safety or control.
And, in his column, Smith takes a swipe at Racing Australia for their lack of leadership on this matter: "It is a breakthrough of substantial significance that Santa Anita will ban the use of the whip. It is an embarrassment for Australia that it has been so meek and weak on this subject. The sport cowers before the breeders, owners and jockeys. Santa Anita lags Australia on drug protocols but is attempting to catch up."
Smith goes on to wish Winx the glory of a last win but warns her jockey, Hugh Bowman not to draw the whip: "Let's pray Winx remains sound for the Queen Elizabeth. She will be running clean and without raceday drugs. A beautiful story will be dulled if Bowman draws the whip and lashes her to the line. After the pleasure she has given a nation, she simply doesn't deserve the humiliation and hurt to win another race. Winx, the mighty mare, won us over long ago. Saturday will not be the time to give fate an even break."