Jockeys face Cheltenham Festival ban as new whip rules come into force

Banned: Lorcan Williams  (PA)
Banned: Lorcan Williams (PA)

A total of 20 suspensions have been dished out in the first week of horse racing’s controversial new whip rules, prompting concerns over jockey availability for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The new regulations, which include a seven-stroke limit on jockeys using the whip on their horses, came into force last Monday following a bedding-in period in which riders were informed of any discretions without receiving punishment.

The British Horseracing Authority have come under widespread criticism over the new rules, including from jockeys, trainers and pundits, while others have called for the introduction of the measures to at least be delayed until after the sport’s most high-profile meetings at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Lorcan Williams, who rides regularly for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, is the most high-profile jockey to have been ruled out of Cheltenham thus far after being handed an 18-day ban for his ride on Makin’yourmindup at Haydock on Saturday. Williams was adjudged to have used the whip twice more than permitted, which would usually prompt a nine-day suspension, but that has been doubled as the offence took place in a Grade Two contest.

Several other leading riders, including multiple Grade One winner Aidan Coleman, have been hit with shorter bans for more minor infringements that will allow them to return in time for the Festival, but similar discrepancies in the coming weeks could see jockeys miss the sport’s premier meeting, which starts on March 14.

The most severe sanction was handed out in the case of Charlotte Jones, who was found to have hit her mount Lunar Discovery 11 times during a race at Ayr last Tuesday, prompting the horse’s disqualification - a first under the new rules - and a 14-day ban.