Did whipping cost Smarty Jones the horse racing Triple Crown?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2004:
BELMONT PARK, N.Y.–Did Smarty Jones
lose the Belmont Stakes and his chance to win the
horse racing Triple Crown on June 6 because
jockey Stewart Elliott whipped him?
Counterpunch writer Becky Burgwin thinks
so, and said so in her column of June 9 from a
perspective of expertise.
“I am a huge animal lover,” Burg-win
began, “and though I come from a long line of
jockeys, trainers, and breeders, I think
thoroughbred racing is inhumane. Track racing
especially bothers me because it’s so unnatural.
And then there’s the part where the horses get
whipped. There they lose me.
“When I heard that Smarty Jones had won
the Preakness by seven lengths without having a
crop laid on him,” after winning the Kentucky
Derby,” Burgwin continued, “I was intrigued.
I’ve watched that race [on video] and they’re
right. Elliott never touched him. So I was
thinking, maybe this small, mellow,
sweet-as-all-get-out horse can make it look cool
to win with no whippings, thus affecting change
for all horses in future races.”
But at the Belmont, Burgwin recounted,
“Smarty Jones had a great start and stayed ahead
for the first half. In the home stretch he took
off like a shot and got about three lengths
ahead. Then, for some completely
incomprehensible reason, Elliott started to whip
him. You could see Smarty’s head snap back.
Elliott whipped him over and over for the rest of
the race and you could see how it was getting
harder for Smarty to run. You could see it in
his gait, his head and ears. He was beat,
literally. He was being beaten and it took
everything he had just to finish.
“Wouldn’t it be a humane move to change
the rules,” Burgwin concluded, “so that none
of the jockeys carry crops, so none of the
horses would ever get whipped again?”
Before the 2004 Triple Crown series
started, Laura Hillenbrand expressed similar
views to Bill Finley of The New York Times,
speaking as author of the best-selling biography
Seabiscuit: An American Legend, about a
racehorse considered by many experts to be
perhaps the greatest ever.
“There are myriad reasons why many of us
feel that the use of the whip in racing needs to
be changed, and one of them is that the manner
in which the whip is often used makes a
presentation to the public that many find
offensive and repellent,” Hillenbrand e-mailed
Just before the 2004 Grand National, the
most famous horse race in Britain, Animal Aid on
March 30 distributed an analysis of 161 races
held in October and November 2003 which concluded
that a fourth of the winners were never whipped,
and 70% would have won anyway, without whipping.
“Animal Aid embarked upon this survey
assuming we would find evidence that the welfare
of horses was being compromised,” Andrew Tyler
of Animal Aid told Guardian writer Paul Kelso.
“The welfare problems turned out to be worse than
we feared,” as whipped horses were much more
likely to veer into the paths of others. “What
we did not anticipate was that our analysis would
produce such clear, statistically rooted
evidence that use of the whip is
counterproductive. We have demonstrated that
whipping race horses is pointless as well as
But Animal Aid also found that jockeys
are afraid to spare the whip, lest they be
suspected by bettors of not trying to win–as
ANIMAL PEOPLE detailed in June 1999.
The New York State Racing and Wagering
Board tightened rules against excessive whipping
in March 1998, but the whipping Stewart Elliott
gave to Smarty Jones was well within the rules.
The Royal SPCA of Britain in August 1998
threatened to prosecute jockeys who land frequent
hard whip strokes for criminal cruelty. Three
weeks later the British Jockey Club suspended the
first three finishers in the Juddmonte
International States race at York for excessive
whipping–among them 11-time national champion
Pat Eddery, and 1997 national champion Kieren
Then, in November 1998, the Jockey Club
suspended Tony McCoy for two weeks. McCoy had
just ridden a record 253 winners in one year,
but had incurred five whipping infractions in his
700-plus rides. The suspension cost McCoy about
“It is a question of changing the
cultural attitude that hitting a horse means it
wins,” explained Jockey Club director of
regulation Malcom Wallace.
Since then, a series of race-fixing
scandals have undone the momentum that seemed to
be building against whipping.
The strongest regulations pertaining to
whipping appear to be those of New Zealand and
India. New Zealand jockeys may not hit a horse
more than six times consecutively. Indian
jockeys since April 2001 have not been allowed to
use whips other than “signaling whips” made from
light flexible rubber.