How Many Times Are Jockeys Allowed to Use the Whip in the Grand National?

The whip is one of the most talked about topics in racing and is often something that comes to the fore when we approach big races and meetings throughout the calendar. As a standalone race, there’s nothing bigger than the Grand National, so it should come as no surprise to know that the whip is a much talked about topic in the race and in the build-up.

There are rules in place around the whip, how to use it, how many times it can be used, and where the horse should be hit. All of these together are designed to make the whip effective while also ensuring it is a safe tool to use in a race, and here we are going to look in depth at the rules around the whip during races such as the Grand National.

Why is the Whip Used in Racing?

Jockey national hunt whips

There are two reasons why the whip is used in British racing. The first of those is to ensure the safety of everyone taking part, both humans and animals, in any race and to correct any issues that could cause safety concerns.

Secondly, the whip is also used to encourage a horse. By this, the aim is to focus the horse on the race and activate it to run to its best possible position. These rules have been put in place by the BHA, the governing body of racing, and the rules around using the whip are made with these two points in mind.

It is believed that when used in the correct manner, in the correct position, and the right number of times, the whip can help with both safety and encouragement. However, when this is not the case, these two points are not hit, and that is the reason why the whip rules exist, to prevent the whip from being used for other reasons.

How Many Times Can a Jockey Use the Whip in One Race?

Jockey Rachel Blackmore with a whip under her armThe rules for whip usage are standard across racing, with a rule for flat racing and a rule for jumps racing. It doesn’t matter what race, they need to stick to the same rules. This means that for the Grand National, a race of over four miles in distance, the same whip rules apply to a regular two-mile hurdle contest.

Standard rules say that a horse can be hit with the whip six times in a flat race and seven times in a national hunt race. This means that in the Grand National, horses should be hit no more than seven times with the whip in the race.

As we’ve already mentioned, though, there is much more to how the whip is used, rather than just the number of times it is used. Alongside counting how many times the whip is used, stewards will also look at where the horse is hit and the force of the hit.

The best example of this is the ruling around a jockey not raising the whip above shoulder height. If they do this and hit a horse five times, then they are below the limit, but it would be seen as dangerous, and they could receive a ban for that action.

The final aspect of whip usage is giving the horse time to respond. Five hits are allowed, but if they come simultaneously and the horse is not given time to respond to the whip, then this is also a case where the rider could face a penalty.

Fixed rules are in place for the number of times a horse can be hit with the whip, but other aspects are also in play, and bans could come for jockeys who stay under the maximum number because of their actions.

How is the Whip Recorded in Racing?

There is no technology behind how the whip is recorded in racing, it is something that the stewards look out for while they are watching the race and looking for incidents. Of course, they have the ability to look back through replays and work out where any offences have taken place, so after a race, they will often look back and count the number of hits a jockey has done.

Racing hasn’t made a great deal of use of technology over the past few years, so the expectation is that nothing will change in the foreseeable future. However, something such as a gauge to work out when the whip was used and automatically record it would undoubtedly be of use and make the life of a steward much easier.

jockeys holding their racing whip

Do Jockeys Use the Whip the Full Number of Times Each Race?

It is important to remember that when people are talking about the whip being used in racing, many horses are not hit the maximum number of times in a race. For those never in contention and struggling, the chances are they are hit with the whip once or twice at the most, and some that depart a race early may never be hit.

The general rule is that horses which are close at the finish are the ones receiving the most hits with the whip because their jockeys are going all out to win. So, as long as there have been no issues with the jockeys, in a race like the Grand National, with 40 runners, only the few involved in the finish will be hit six or seven times in the race, with others being hit less, depending on how long they have stayed in the race and being involved.

The length of national hunt races, and in particular, the length of the Grand National, means that many horses will drop out of contention before the finish, which isn’t always the case with flat racing. Therefore, although the number of hits with the whip is higher in national hunt racing, that is balanced out by the assumption that fewer horses will be hit in this type of race.