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Darling On Whipping

Published: February 28, 2009 2:34 pm ET

Last Comment: March 6, 2009 8:36 am ET | 17 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Leading trainer Jack Darling recently voiced his opinions on the whipping issue.

Darling's comments appear below.

WE HAVE BIG PROBLEMS IN OUR INDUSTRY. We have lost customers and fans at an alarming rate and there appears to be no end in sight. We have several racetracks in Ontario that truly do have harness racing's best interests at heart and we must help and support them. We are all in this together and we are on the same side. We simply must attract new customers and racing fans to survive.

Why I bring this up now is because I feel that we can make the first step in attracting these potential new customers by abolishing one handed whipping. Dr. Ted Clarke of Grand River Raceway has put forth a proposal to the ORC that would eliminate one handed whipping. A decision on this proposal will be made shortly. All of the racetracks that I mentioned previously have strongly supported this rule change as an important first step to open the door to attracting these possible new customers that we desperately need. Will this step alone save the industry? Probably not, but it will remove a big black mark on our sport and at least get things moving in a positive direction. As Brian Webster, a long time respected leader in our sport, has said, "If we can't change the whipping rule, which should be relatively easy and positive, then how are we going to deal with the real tough issues that we face?" Hopefully the tracks, with the help of all our industry groups can work on new and innovative promotions to attract new customers. We really need new and better ideas and I urge anyone who has ideas to put them forward.

Getting people to come out to the racetrack for live racing is imperative but the future seems to be in bringing harness racing into the home and setting up betting accounts so people can enjoy the races and place bets in the comfort of their own home. WEG and The Score do a great job of this and the productions are first class, but I must go back to the one handed whipping again. The whipping and slashing during the stretch drives are turning a lot of potential new customers off. There are people who stumble onto The Racing Channel or The Score and see the whipping and turn the channel, just as they would not return to live racing at the track if they were offended by it. Surveys show that this is especially true among females and younger people. The up close-slow motion replays of the stretch drives with the one handed whipping can be very painful to watch. I believe that eliminating the one handed whipping would be an important first step in allowing this great new avenue to grow. Expanding this in-home entertainment experience is essential to our survival.

These comments that I have just made deal with the perception problem of the one handed whipping but I would like to give some thoughts on the actual physical problem. We have a lot of resistance to changing the whipping rule among the participants in our sport. We seem to have become desensitized to this one handed whipping. It is a very violent act. As Bob Stewart said, "If someone whipped a horse in the barn area like they do in a race, they would be put in jail." I think if we are completely honest about it we must admit that as long as one handed whipping is allowed there will be a certain amount of abuse going on every night that we race horses. The answer to this problem up to now has been to make the penalties more severe for excessive whipping. Everyday you can read on the CTA website the new list of excessive whipping infractions. Virtually every time you see that a driver was fined, an innocent horse was abused. If one handed whipping continues to be allowed, these fines and abuses are going to continue. I strongly believe that adopting this new proposal where drivers are required to keep a line in each hand will eliminate these problems. Drivers need whips for safety reasons and I personally feel confident that with a line in each hand the driver can urge the horse on sufficiently without abusing or giving the appearance of abusing the horse. I feel qualified to give an opinion on this based on my experience as a driver for 15 years and a trainer for 35 years. Drivers should know what we are trying to accomplish here. We all want safe, competitive, and first class events. Any unsafe actions, flailing of the arms, etc., will have to be dealt with by the judges. Most drivers appear to be against eliminating one handed whipping, but several high profile drivers such as John Campbell, Dave Palone, Wally Hennessey, and others are supporting and encouraging the proposed rule change for the sake of saving and improving the sport of harness racing.

One handed whipping is not allowed in Europe. Pompano Park has banned one handed whipping, as has the State of Kentucky. Leading industry groups and individuals in the United States have come out in favour of abolishing one handed whipping. Among them are The Hambletonian Society, The Little Brown Jug Society, Harness Tracks of America, Hanover Shoe Farm, Walnut Hall Farm, Blue Chip Farm, Stan Bergstein, who has devoted his entire life to the betterment of harness racing, Alan Leavitt, Jim Simpson, Murray Brown, Mike Kimelman, Art Zubrod of Brittany Farms, and many others. Ontario racing is highly respected by all other racing jurisdictions. I believe that if we can change this rule in Ontario, the other provinces and states will follow our lead fairly quickly.

John Hayes, one of the best minds in our business, has been way ahead of the curve regarding this problem. He has been passionately making the case to eliminate one handed whipping for several years and continues today. Please read his letter to John Blakney that is posted on the ORC website. At the same time, read the letter from Dr. Ted Clarke. It is very enlightening.

If we can eliminate this one handed whipping, I believe we will all look back in a couple of years and wonder how we allowed all that whipping to go on for so long. It is so important that we always treat our horses with compassion and respect. The harness racing community is full of people who truly believe this, including drivers, trainers, owners, grooms, breeders, veterinarians, blacksmiths, track management, vendors, etc.

The Ontario Racing Commission is on the verge of making a decision on this rule change. My assumption is that they will base their decision on what they feel is best for the industry and its future. I urge everyone who has feelings on this issue to let them be known on the ORC website [Wendy Hoogeveen]. This could well be a first step to a better future for harness racing and for our equine athletes.

Thank you,
Jack Darling

March 6, 2009 - 8:36 amI own and breed Standardbred

I own and breed Standardbred horses and have for many years. I assume that over the years I became desensitized to certain aspects of the racing side of the business - in particular - one handed whipping.

Last year during the 2008 Leamington, ON Fair there was a card of racing. I took my 8 year old granddaughter to watch the races. She was very excited and could not hardly wait for the races to start. Race 1 left the gate in front of us and she watched intently. Prior to the race, she stated that she wanted number 3 to win. When the horses were coming down the stretch she squeezed my hand and she started to cry as she could hear the cracking of the whips. She said "Papa, that man is hurting the horse I like." It was at that moment that I came to the conclusion that I had become desensitized and never realized what a "new comer" was really seeing.


March 5, 2009 - 11:16 pmWhipping is a "red herring".

Whipping is a "red herring". The ongoing collapse of Harness Racing has more to do with the blatent unfairness of it(*unfair start pole/ Judges decisions as per Western Fair Oct 28 race 12/ and of course the selective use of performance enhancing drugs)!

March 3, 2009 - 12:39 amFirstly, all vested

Firstly, all vested stakeholders in the standarbred industry must appreciate as I do, the transparency and honesty with which people are discussing harness racing's most pressing issue. This type of dialogue should serve to enhance not hinder our progress.
I have pondered the issue at length recently and as of yet can't firmly decide where I stand on "one-handed whipping". I have managed to indentify another area of our business(apart from catch drivers), that surely will offer some "damaging" resistance to it; the career professional gamblers that religiously crowd the floor space in front of each monitor on each level of the grandstand at Mowhawk and Woodbine. They wisely attempt to make a profit from the large pool wagering offered at such venues. What they don't want to see is their favourite catch driver breathing life into a $50/$100/$200 ticket with a few "tippy tap" urgings 200 feet from the wire. I do realise that we must find a new, younger and more dynamic demographic to float the future of the standardbred industry, however lets not discard the current level of success that we are accustomed to.
Standardbred racing is not the only entertainment game in town being challenged by obstacles - Look at pro. hockey and the battle they have hooked up with in regards to violence/abuse. What about the runners - they take the odd shot on the rump (and I'm sure unintentionally across the ear). Big $$$ in boxing, football and it's human abuse/violence. Sled dogs bleed from their tongues, lips and paws every time they race.
Maybe there is something else scaring them away? This is a tough one, I hope it works out for us.

March 2, 2009 - 12:44 pmAnyone who would make a

reg warren SAID...

Anyone who would make a statement that you can hit a horse as hard with your hand in a rein holder as you can with a full arm swing needs to give their head a shake. When a driver is making his final push to the wire with the adrenalin flowing they forget the camera is on them close up and catches their every move. Good letter Mr. D thanks very much.

March 2, 2009 - 8:08 amAs usual well said Jack. I

As usual well said Jack. I really don't see the problem here, the majority of the prominent owners and trainers want the change,

the powers to be should oblige. As Blair stated most of the objection comes from the "catch drivers" (who on the most part take and put very little back into the sport}. The only other objection I can think of is the lack of revenue it would take from the coffers of our governing body.
If any more evidence is needed than the empty stand and mutuel handles take alook at the number of horses that have no $ wagered on them when racing is in full sawing in the summer months, sad.

March 1, 2009 - 5:21 pmI found Jack Darlings

I found Jack Darlings article regarding the one hand whipping rule to be excellent......thank goodness there are SOME compasionate people still out there in the race game!! Complain & moan all you like....there has to be something done to rectify the abuse that some animals receive in the brutal hands of some of the drivers out there!! Well done Jack!! L.W.

March 1, 2009 - 2:25 pmThere is too much discussion

Ari Othitis SAID...

There is too much discussion in the last year on the whipping rules. It is narrow minded to believe this one tool is the major cause of problems with getting new fans. People are continuing to delude themselves that a rule change would be the panacea to end the decline of the sport of harness racing but what it really comes down to is propaganda and lobby groups. Horse racing has been declining for a long time. The main reason is ignorance of the media and the failue of our leaders in the 80's to correct people's myths and educate the public. Instead the big wigs were content to allow casinos, lotteries, and other sports to steal the fans while making feeble attempts to bring new ones in. Casual fans would be screaming in the stands to whip a horse harder. Media coverage of our sport is the first problem. First, 95% of the time horse racing makes the news it is for race fixing or drug scandals. Second the media rarely takes our stars seriously because it is not sexy to report on a horse who wins 20 races drug free. Third lobby groups are a huge deal. I can't tell you how much proppaganda on treatment of all animals reaches me. So if the public see you as shady, drug shooting cheaters who abuse animals then you've lost. Racing needs a strong lobby like PETA but who would act on our side to combat them.

The other major problem is our dumbed down society. Due to advancements in technology we see so many people blow their money on slots, casinos and even video slots. As for young people try to convince a selfish generation of youths who are mostly concerned with what color panties that Paris Hilton is wearing today to come to the backstretch and see that these race horses are treated better then most people. It is not likely you can do so.

Gambling is the big deal in our sport but we rarely make it our focus. Look at poker. In 2003 its fan base shot up immensly thanks to showing how average people can make money. It was everywhere on TV. Racing we don't show anything like that.

Educating new fans and the public and combating stereotypes is what horse racing needs to do not abolish one hand whipping.

Ari Othitis

March 1, 2009 - 1:44 pmIs it "safe" to whip with

Lynne Magee SAID...

Is it "safe" to whip with one hand--the way they do it now? I think the recommendation to do away with blatant one-handed, over the shoulder or out to the side whipping is long overdue. There is a right way to give encouragment but that is not what we are seeing on the tracks these days. There are concerns coming from the public that need to be addressed. Judges need to be more vigilent. Fines and suspensions need to send a better message. As it is now, most of the abuse is being ignored and the punishment is merely a slight inconvenience at best. Anyone who truly cares about the welfare of the horses and the future of the industry would see that something needs to be done and done quickly.

March 1, 2009 - 12:20 pmJack I totally agree with

Jack I totally agree with eliminating the one handed whip. However, I am more complexed with the drivers that push the end of the whip into the genitals of the racehorse. I think it is time that both the one handed whipping and the shoving the whip between the horses back legs need to go. My only question would be that in an ever increasing violent society do the youth in fact find these two actions as being another part of the violence in their society.
Herb Swinhoe

March 1, 2009 - 11:35 amI agree 100% with Jack's

Jen Duncan SAID...

I agree 100% with Jack's comments. My letter to the ORC on this topic has already been posted on their site.

Jen Duncan

March 1, 2009 - 10:52 amJack, I have respected you

Gord Brown SAID...

Jack, I have respected you for many a year. After reading your letter a few dozen times I could not disagree more. You can not tell me it looks better or you can hurt a horse less by having hands in the hand holds. I drive approx 2000 horses a year and I know for a fact that you can hit one just as hard with hands in the hand holds. In my opinion the perception is still there because you are still hitting a horse with a hard piece of fiberglass. I agree something needs to be done. I was at the last meeting and some of ideas presented were almost laughable, however, some were worth looking at. I feel we need to explore some of these other options before we abolish one handed whipping. A driver can slip their hands in and out of the hand holds and the judges would never see it. I feel that drivers will just move their hand holds back and hit the horses just as hard. This is unsafe as they will not have the needed control over their horse if a dangerous situation arises.

Gord Brown

March 1, 2009 - 10:08 amway to go jack hi jack as

way to go jack hi jack as a longtime friend i always admired your cool and when you speak peoples will listen wery well wrote letter hope everybody will read it because you are all class altheway sincrely norm dessereault

March 1, 2009 - 9:41 amJack, thank you for this

ron francis SAID...

Jack, thank you for this logical, well presented arguement. Elimination of the one
hand whipping rule has become the right thing to do. Harness racing is staggering, but there is hope. Why not be part of the "green" movement. The whipping of an animal in
competition destroys all credibility of a clean, green, back to nature, back to our roots sporting activity. Its time to be pro-active not re-active.

March 1, 2009 - 2:31 amI agree with Jack

I agree with Jack wholeheartedly! So many in the industry cannot seem to get their head around this subject. The "catch-drivers" are a group especially resistant to change and inordinately influential. At the recent USTA meetings the discussion about whipping went on for hours with no really useful conclusion except to issue stronger penalties. This is the common "cop-out" solution that skirts around the main issue. The modern sports fan, my kids friends at school, and especially those uninitiated to horse racing simply WILL NOT accept the one-handed slashing (whether it happens once or twenty times) that they can see when watching the SCORE or even the closeup part of a replay on an in-house monitor. The horrible sound one can hear at the head of the stretch at a smaller track is also exceedingly inappropriate. I myself have received more than one whipping infraction. This is just proof to me that old habits die hard. I say carry a whip and show it to the horse, or maybe even exert the odd tap, as long as a line is in each hand. The horses will respect the use of the whip in this manner and so will the majority of the public (similar practice is acceptable in the majority of classes on the hunter-jumper show circuit or in horse racing in Europe). I am willing to adjust (for the few times that I actually drive) and fully appreciate its necessity. If the industry as whole does not come to the same conclusion, this whipping dilemma (along with the catastrophic breakdowns in the thoroughbred industry) will invite outside interference in our industry from a group like PETA. Racing may not survive such an event. Horses are considered by many to be pets, just like dogs, cats and the kid's pony. I hope The ORC and harness racing in general heed Jack Darling's call.

February 28, 2009 - 10:18 pmAs an owner and breeder, I

As an owner and breeder, I thank you for your timely and insightful comments regarding the whipping rules. If new patrons, fans, and owners are to be attracted to our sport, the apparent and obvious abuse must be eliminated along with the unseen abuse, ie chemical and training method abuse. To place ourselves beyond reproach in the mind of the gaming and sporting public, an examination of our methods both public and private must be forthcoming and transparent.

Dr. David Magee.
Wingham, Ontario.

February 28, 2009 - 7:28 pmJack, thanks again for

Jeff Porchak SAID...

Jack, thanks again for taking the time to compose this letter and send in your thoughts.


February 28, 2009 - 6:53 pmThank you, Jack Darling.

Lynne Magee SAID...

Thank you, Jack Darling. And thank you to those listed as supporters of the "one handed whipping" rule. Yes, there will be drivers who will abuse our horses in other ways and those actions will have to be dealt with as well. The whipping issue is a start. I know many young people and older ones as well who simply can't stand the sight of such a beautiful and innocent animal being slashed as it comes down the stretch--especially when it is working so hard to get their on its own. I've heard far too many people say that they will never watch another horse race again. It will be might hard to bring those folk back but we do have a chance to recruit new fans if and when rules like this are in place and the horses are treated with the dignity that is deserved.
Lynne Magee

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