“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”
United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote those now-famous words – “I know it when I see it” – in 1964 when the court determined that an Ohio man was wrongly convicted under a state obscenity law for showing what local officials said was hard-core pornography at a movie theater.
Horse racing stewards in Iowa must apply that same standard – “I know it when I see it” – when considering what constitutes a jockey's “excessive or indiscriminate” use of the whip or riding crop during a race.
Earlier this week, Ralph D'Amico, Rick Evans and Rick Sackett – the three stewards at Prairie Meadows – determined that the track's leading rider, Ramon Vazquez, went over the line in using the crop 48 times (by their count) in the final 3 ½ furlongs in a mile and 70-yard allowance/optional claiming race on Aug. 3.
The horse, Underpressure, finished second by a neck as the 9-10 favorite for trainer Chris Richard and owner Mallory Greiner. Vazquez was fined $1,000. In their ruling, the stewards noted that Vazquez “has had several violations at Prairie Meadows in recent history for excessive or indiscriminate whipping of his horse during a race.”
Iowa rule 491 IAC 10.5(2)”j”(4) states simply: “Whip prohibited. Jockeys may not use a whip on a two-year-old horse before April 1 of each year, nor shall a jockey or other person engage in excessive or indiscriminate whipping of any horse at any time.”
I asked state steward D'Amico how “excessive or indiscriminate” are defined. Is there a magic number when a jockey goes from being “aggressive” to “excessive”?
“That's the question,” D'Amico said. “We tried to put it in writing so the jockeys, trainers, everyone would know what to expect. We got some pushback from the Jockeys' Guild and trainers, so we had to withdraw and we went back to the interpretation of our rules, which are kind of vague. Basically we watch the race and if we feel it was excessive, we have the vets check the horses for welts and we are notified. All jockeys get a warning first if we believe their whipping was excessive or indiscriminate or if they left a welt.”
The Association of Racing Commissioners International does have a more specific model rule. It reads:
The webpage for the Professional Jockeys Association in England explains the British Horseracing Authority's extensive whip rules here. Most controversial is the fact there is a number of strikes a jockey is permitted during a race with hands off the reins: seven.
California adopted the first rule among U.S. racing jurisdictions restricting the number of times a jockey may strike a horse – three – without giving the horse a chance to respond (at which point they can strike the horse three more times, and so on and so on). Regulators in Ontario, Canada, previously introduced a restrictive whip rule in 2009. Minnesota also regulates the number of times a jockey can strike a horse before giving it a chance to respond.
Most racing states have adopted rules that require padded riding crops – they were developed about 10 years ago – instead of the old-school whips that could more easily leave a welt on a horse.
The whip or riding crop remains an optics and image problem for the sport and it's important that regulators and industry participants be aware of how many people in the general public abhor its use. The regulations (or lack thereof) for the riding crop in Iowa need to be updated so jockeys have specific guidelines (i.e., ARCI model rules) on what constitutes whipping that is excessive or indiscriminate.
The Potter Stewart rule shouldn't apply to horse racing.
CLARIFICATION: While California was the first U.S. racing jurisdiction to restrict the number of times a jockey may strike a horse with the crop without giving it a chance to respond, the Ontario Racing Commission in 2009 was the first North American regulator to adopt such a standard.
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