Officials of Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. (OBS) announced in early September that they were banding together to make major changes in the under tack shows for their sales of 2-year-olds in training. Beginning in 2009, they said they would strictly regulate the use of whips by riders during workouts and would prohibit the use of front toe grabs on horses.

The moves were applauded by at least two sellers of 2-year-olds, Eddie Woods and Nick de Meric, both of whom are OBS directors.

“I think regulating the use of the whip is great because horses won’t get beat up,” Woods said. “Nine out of 10 of them -- if you leave them alone and they have a good education -- they’ll work their hearts for you.”

According to de Meric, “There is some overuse of the whip, so this is a good thing. Front toe grabs aren’t widely used at the 2-year-old sales, so they’re not a big problem, but they do create additional stress on the legs of a young horse.”

According to a press release issued by the participating sale companies, each auction firm is considering the details of implementation and enforcement independently, which creates the possibility of a confusing hodgepodge of regulations. But Geoffrey Russell, the director of sales for Keeneland, expects the rules to be more alike than different.

“I haven’t heard anything that’s been wild or strange,” he said. “I would think they would be very similar.”

Barretts’ president and general manager, Jerry McMahon believed the rules would end up being “as standardized as possible.” But, he added, “I don’t think the group wanted to make a commitment that everything would be exactly alike because individual markets tend to vary on how they approach something like that.” For example, McMahon said, Barretts charges buyers $250 to have sale horses tested for steroids, but other sale companies charge $500.

However, some of the auction firms are further along in finalizing the details and enforcement of their regulations than others.

“We aren’t going to allow the use of a whip past the eighth pole unless there is an emergency, and you won’t be able to use it after the wire,” said OBS chairman Mike O’Farrell. “If it’s deemed that a rider has abused a horse with the  use of  a whip or has used the whip past the eighth pole, he (or she) will be fined $500 and the money will be given to a charity.”

Walt Robertson, the chairman of Fasig-Tipton, said his company’s management “is talking about not using the whip during the final eighth (of a work) and past the wire. I can’t speak for the other companies, but that is the direction that we’re going.”

According to O’Farrell, a consensus was reached quickly between sale company officials and consignors that action should be taken on both the whip and toe grab issues.

“The focus on safety and soundness issues within our industry brought us together, and we forged a united front to introduce important changes in the way under tack shows are conducted,” he said in prepared statement.

In addition, sale company officials said in their press release that “prohibiting the use of toe grabs is in line with recommendations from The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee now being widely adopted by the racing industry.”

The sale companies’ executives decided not to ban all use of the whip “because, from a safety standpoint, as far as riders are concerned, there may be a time when a whip is beneficial,” O’Farrell said. “If a horse becomes unruly or out of control, they may need to use the whip. What it all boils down to at OBS is that we are going to allow riders to carry whips and use them judiciously prior to the eighth pole. But after that, there will be no use of the whip unless there is a dire need.”

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