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Santa Anita jockeys to ride without whips to collect data

Jockeys at Santa Anita will ride April 12 without riding crops as a way of gathering information in advance of a proposed rule that would eliminate the use of whips.

It’s the first unified response from the Jockey’s Guild after the California Horse Racing Board unanimously voted to outlaw the riding crop except in the case of safety for the jockeys or horses.

In a letter to the racing board, Santa Anita, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Jockey’s Guild said it was making the move as a way of gathering data about how the change would affect racing.

“Upon the completion of each race, data will be gathered from input from the jockeys,” the letter said. “Each ride will be evaluated for safety, how horses respond in passing other horses, react when going through an opening, or any other situation that may develop. … This information will be submitted for consideration during the public comment period.”

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The jockeys opposed the riding crop rule, originally proposed by Belinda Stronach, president and chief executive officer of the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, among other tracks. It was part of package of reforms she submitted in the wake of the 23 horse deaths at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. There have been no proven ties between whip use and the breakdowns.

The move appears to be an attempt to satisfy a public that finds the optics of a horse being hit with a riding crop disturbing. The jockeys contend the new cushioned crop does not hurt a horse and is more of a noise maker to focus the animal. Some of reforms offered by Stronach, such as reduction and eventual elimination of race-day medication, are already in effect at Santa Anita.

Because the no-whip rule would have to be enforced by the stewards, who work for the state and not the track, there was no way to implement it without going through the state approval process, which could take it to October at the earliest.

The Guild said it was notifying everyone so that announcements could be made, especially to the betting public.

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“Please be assured that the jockeys will do everything within their ability and power to achieve best possible placing for their horses,” the letter went on to say.

The letter was signed by Mike Smith and John Velazquez, both in the hall of fame, and Terry Meyocks, president and chief executive of the Jockey’s Guild.

Next Friday, the state racing board will also be meeting at Santa Anita to discuss its ability to reassign race dates should Santa Anita elect to not finish its meeting.

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