Eddie Delahoussaye urges jockeys’ input on horse racing rules – Press Enterprise
No less an authority than retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Delahoussaye says horse racing is going to put itself out of business if it’s not careful.
He claims regulatory boards in California and New Jersey are going to drive the gamblers away from the sport with their new whip restrictions.
Horse racing can’t survive without the bettors.
“Those gamblers, if they see you’re not trying, they’ll just quit the game. They won’t bet,” the 69-year-old Delahoussaye said in a 30-minute telephone interview Thursday from his home in Lafayette, La. “Those gamblers are going to leave, and we won’t have racing.
“There will come a point, the people who gamble, they’ll think (riders) aren’t trying or they’re maybe holding that horse, not giving him his best shot, and next thing you know they’re going to go bet football, baseball and whatever else.”
The new rule in California, which took effect Oct. 1, brought about three changes:
• A jockey cannot use the stick more than six times in a race, excluding showing or waving the whip or tapping the horse on the shoulder.
• Riders can’t use the crop more than two times in succession as part of the six-time limit without giving the horse a chance to respond before using the whip again.
• The crop must be used in an underhanded position with the stick always at or below the shoulder level of the jockey.
The New Jersey Racing Commission passed an even stricter rule earlier this year, stating riders are prohibited from using a whip “except for reasons of safety.” The Jockeys’ Guild is appealing that rule in the state’s Superior Court, claiming the commission acted without considering input from jockeys on the impact it could have on the sport.
Jockeys throughout the country are concerned the new rules are a threat to safety for the riders and the horses.
“That stick is more protection for (a rider) than it is something for abusing (a horse),” said Delahoussaye, who won the Kentucky Derby with Gato Del Sol in 1982 and Sunny’s Halo in 1983 and retired in 2003 because of injury with 6,384 victories. “To me, (the new rules) don’t make sense. It’s dangerous. These guys that are making these rules, they never rode a horse in their lives.
“They should have got the top riders, experienced riders like Mike Smith and John Velazquez, and have a meeting and let them dictate how it should be done. You don’t let people who never rode a horse dictate how it’s done. That’s like telling a vet how to do his job. Or tell a doctor how to do his job. Or tell a policeman, and you’ve never done it. I just don’t get it.”
Delahoussaye says education, not reforms, is what’s needed.
“Before I got my license, I had to get the gate starter to OK me, the stewards to look at me, the trainers to observe me, and the outrider to observe me before I got my license,” he said. “Nowadays, anybody can get a license. They don’t do that anymore. It’s all changed. I think they should go back to simplifying everything and educating. You need to educate, not just do what they’re doing.”
Delahoussaye remembers in the early ’80s riding a horse at Santa Anita that had not raced in a while. The trainer told him the horse might get tired, to be careful in the stretch. So he never used his stick, the horse lost second by a nose, he was fined $300 by the stewards and he took flak from the bettors for weeks afterward for “not trying.”
“I know for the gamblers themselves, they want to see you trying,” he said. “At the time, the gamblers who bet on that horse, they saw I wasn’t whipping him and I got fined. I was protecting myself and the horse, but I wasn’t protecting the gamblers.”
The man known as Eddie D. wants to see the riders protected, and he agrees with the vast majority of jockeys that the new rules are putting horse and rider in greater peril.
Remember, this is a sport where an ambulance follows the jockeys around the track during a race.
“Let’s think about safety first,” Delahoussaye said. “Workman’s comp, that doesn’t pay you for the rest of your life. Will the racing commission compensate any of those riders for the rest of their life if they get hurt or crippled?
“It’s a dangerous occupation, and if the riders weren’t complaining for their safety, then I’d say fine. But they’re complaining, and I’ll tell you what, when I was riding I was glad to have the whip, whether I used it or not. It was a precaution.”
During a time when the safety of the horse and rider is of greater importance than ever before, the jockeys, who put their lives on the line each time they climb aboard a horse, should have been front and center when these new rules were enacted.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter at @Sham73