‘Take the race away from them’: The farcical rule that could cause a protest in the Melbourne Cup

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Prominent racehorse owner Terry Henderson says he will lodge a protest in the Melbourne Cup if his horse is narrowly beaten by a horse whose jockey breaks the whip rules.

Stewards decided against lodging a protest on behalf of Caulfield Cup runner-up West Wind Blows after his jockey Jamie Spencer abided by the whip rules, only to lose the race to winner Without A Fight, whose jockey Mark Zahra used the whip on nine occasions before the 100-metre mark, four more times than permitted, and for 13 hits in total.

Mark Zahra wins the Caulfield Cup aboard Without A Fight.Credit: Getty Images

Zahra copped a $50,000 fine and a seven-meeting suspension that was deferred to start after the Cox Plate, which will allow him to get back for Derby day, the first day of Cup week.

And legendary jockey Frankie Dettori will be unable to ride at Flemington on the last three days of the carnival after breaching the whip rules on British Champions Day at Royal Ascot, incurring a 16-meeting suspension.

Frankie Dettori after riding King Of Steel to victory at Ascot Racecourse.Credit: Getty Images

But Henderson, director of OTI Racing and winner of Wednesday’s Geelong Cup with Amade, said the rule is not working.

“I can’t see the benefit of having a rule that doesn’t have impact,” said Henderson, who hopes to have Daqiansweet Junior and Athabascan as Melbourne Cup starters.

“While there’s not a strong impact for breaking the rule, it’ll continue to get broken. The only way that you’ll stop people from breaking the rule in major races is to potentially take the race away from them.”

Only once have stewards upheld a protest for a whip breach, when a dead heat occurred at Flemington in December last year, after it was found jockey Blake Shinn had whipped his horse 27 times, including 12 times before the 100-metre mark.

“It is our view that you have gained an advantage in breaching the whip rules and by breaching the Australian rule of racing 132 (7),” Stewards said on that occasion.

“Our view is had you not breached those whip rules, then Invincible Caviar would have finished ahead of [Shinn’s horse] My Yankee Girl.

“Therefore, the objection is upheld.”

Under the rules, a horse may only be hit five times before the 100-metre mark, with jockeys having free rein in the last 100 metres. Breaches of the whip rule will result in fines or suspensions, depending on by how far jockeys exceed the limit.

Henderson said he would have no hesitation in protesting if his horse was narrowly beaten in this year’s Melbourne Cup by a horse whose jockey breached the whip rules.

“Every race is looked at on its merits, but if it’s a short margin, as you’ve already seen in that dead heat, you would find yourself protesting,” he said.

Asked whether he would be comfortable as an owner to lose a race if his winning jockey had lost count, Henderson said: “I would feel very, very sorry for the jockey.

Commentator Gerard Whateley wore Black Caviar silks for his trip down the slide at ‘Big Freeze 2’ in 2016.Credit: Darrian Traynor

“But the rules are the rules, and there are rules like we all have to deal with on a day-to-day basis in racing that are hard to acknowledge in the heat of the battle. But if the rules are broken, until there is a significant impact from the breaking of the rules, they’ll continue to be broken.”

Broadcaster Gerard Whateley described Zahra’s Caulfield Cup win as “problematic”.

“This is all about competitive advantage outside the rules,” Whateley said on SEN on Monday.

“The jockey knows he’s under fierce pressure and rides with all his vigour. He is allowed to strike his mount five times.

“He blatantly and flagrantly ignores that rule, knowing what’s required and hits Without a Fight nine times.

“He does it because the rules are not really rules – more guidelines. Nothing is done about the actual race.”

Zahra responded on SEN at Tuesday’s Breakfast with the Best.

“I think he was very hard, Whateley. ‘Blatant disregard’ for the rule was way too harsh, I reckon. I broke the rules, I deserve a fine,” Zahra said.

“Anyone to say it was blatant disregard, no one could watch that race, and if they didn’t know I had got a whip fine, they wouldn’t have even known.

“I didn’t even hit him the last 75 metres, I just had to get up him quick to make ground in a short amount of time.”

The whip rules are set by Racing Australia, and therefore are national rules, meaning Racing Victoria can’t change them, even though they’d like the rules to govern an entire race as opposed to just before the final 100-metre mark.

“Racing Victoria is on the record that our industry’s immediate priority should be reducing the maximum permitted usage of the whip to between five and eight times per race in line with other leading international jurisdictions. The Rules of Racing are national though and thus any change to whip rules is best affected at a national level by Racing Australia,” a Racing Victoria spokesperson said.

“Here in Victoria, our Stewards monitor whip use closely and ensure that penalties are issued for those who transgress the rules in any race. Mark Zahra’s penalty in Saturday’s Caulfield Cup was in line with RV’s penalty guidelines for breaches of the national whip rules in Victorian flat races.”

Sam Freedman, co-trainer of Caulfield Cup winner Without A Fight, said Zahra’s penalty was hefty.

“Mark’s been hit with a significant fine,” Freedman said.

“I can see there’s frustration that one rider can overuse the whip and still keep the race, but relative to his prizemoney it is pretty significant.”

Freedman said it would be impossible to determine how much of a margin Zahra’s extra four uses of the whip had on Without A Fight’s run.

“You’ve probably got to quantify what one whip strike is worth,” he said.

“If you were to say one strike was worth a head or a neck or a nose, it’s very hard to have that definitive value because I think every horse is going to respond differently.”

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