Holding the whip hand – a note on the distribution of jockeys’ whip-hand preferences in Australian Thoroughbred racing

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When the main Australian racing authority attempted to moderate whip use in the interests of horse welfare, they were met with resistance from jockeys who claimed that they need the whip for occupational health and safety reasons, based on the premise that it can be used for steering and thus can prevent horses colliding with one another or with fixed objects alongside the track. The assumption that derives from this argument is that if the whip assists in steering, it will be of greatest benefit when used to the outside of the bends in the course. We examined photographs of horses racing in New South Wales (NSW), where all racing is in a clockwise direction, and images of horses racing in Victoria, where racing is counterclockwise. Of 200 jockeys racing in the counterclockwise direction, 183 (91.5%) held the whip in the right hand, and of the 200 jockeys racing clockwise, 107 (53.5%) held the whip in the right hand. There was a significant difference in the percentage of jockeys holding the whip in the outside hand (likelihood χ2 value is 102.68 with 1 df, P < 0.001) between these 2 states, where races are run in opposite directions. The primary conclusion is that the data indicate that placement of the whip seems to be primarily determined by handedness of the jockey, and not by the direction of the track. Given that more than half of NSW jockeys hold the whip in the inside hand, this study challenges the view that the whip is used for steering in NSW.