Chief steward’s reaction to stunning harness whip ruling

Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel has clarified how whip breaches will be assessed following a landmark decision in harness racing.

Racing NSW chief steward Marc Van Gestel says the decision strip a pacer of the win in the Tasmanian Cup will have no bearing on how he applies the whip rules in thoroughbred racing.

On Wednesday, Bullys Delight was removed as the winner of the $75,000 Group 2 event after an inquiry into race night stewards decisions to dismiss protests by the two placegetters against the winner.

Rhys Nicholson’s drive sparked outrage in harness racing circles for his excessive and improper whip use as well as him dropping his right foot from the sulky rest to make contact with Bullys Delight’s right hind leg (hock) – an action in harness racing called “hocking”.

Former Racing NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy led the review process and overturned the result.

“In my view, had it not been for the whip, had it not been for the hocking, Bullys Delight wouldn’t have finished in front of the (subsequently) first and second placed horses,” Murrihy said of his decision.

“We cannot accept a victory at any cost approach. You wouldn’t take that risk in a $5000 maiden, but there is more incentive in bigger races and it’s those bigger races which are watched by larger and broader audiences.

“In this case, you have to consider not just the seriousness of the infractions, but the welfare considerations and social licence we have to conduct racing. I looked at the totality and gravity of what occurred.”

Murrihy told Racenet that harness racing whip rules are different to those applied in Thoroughbred racing in that stewards don’t need to be “comfortably satisfied that had the events not occurred that the horses protesting would have finished in front”.

Van Gestel said it is for that reason the landmark case will have no impact on how whip breaches are judged on his watch.

“They are different rules, different sports and different circumstances,” Van Gestel said.

“I wouldn’t think it would be a precedent at all for thoroughbred racing.

“We’ve got interpretations as to what we consider in relation to it, and we’ve got to be satisfied when they are breaching the rules that the horse gained such an advantage that it wouldn’t have won or run a placing and that’s the test we apply.

“Our position here is it’s a padded whip and the whip in our view is not one that has any welfare implications upon the horse.”

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