The most stringent rule regarding the use of a whip in thoroughbred horse racing will be the controversial focal point when Monmouth Park opens its meet Friday.

The rule adopted by the New Jersey Racing Commission allows a horse to be struck with a riding crop only for safety reasons.

It applies to jockeys and exercise riders, and violations can result in suspensions that will increase with additional offenses.

The rule has been hailed by animal rights groups. The Jockeys’ Guild, the organization representing professional jockeys in thoroughbred and quarter horse racing in the United States, filed a appeal with the Superior Court of the New Jersey Appellate Division to have it struck down, calling it dangerous for both riders and horses. An appeal for an immediate stay was denied last month.

Terry Meyocks, the chief executive of The Jockeys’ Guild based in Lexington, Kentucky, said New Jersey commission refused to allow jockeys to address it before passing the rule.

“The New Jersey Racing Commission, whoever the commissioner is, and anybody else that had an important input and put this rule into effect they ought to go to church tomorrow morning and say their prayers that nobody gets hurt or no horses get hurt,” Meyocks said in an interview with The Associated Press Thursday.

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KathyGuillermo, PETA senior vice president, welcomed the ban on whipping to force horses to run faster.

“PETA congratulates Monmouth Park and New Jersey officials for eliminating the most obvious and visible form of abuse in horse racing—whipping,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Under any circumstances outside a race track, beating a horse can be prosecuted as cruelty to animals. Putting a jockey on the animal’s back doesn’t make it less cruel. While there is still much suffering in the horse racing industry, Monmouth Park is now the leader in the nation—and much of the world—in recognizing this and eliminating this atrocity.”

Meyocks said the current riding crop only in extremely rare situations produces cuts and gives an animal welts. He added Norway is the only place that has a rule as tough as New Jersey.

The racing commission, which is part of New Jersey’s Office of Law and Public Safety, referred all requests for interviews to the state attorney general’s office.

Leland Moore, a spokesman for the attorney general, said he could not comment on the rule because of the pending litigation brought by the jockeys’ guild.

The commission proposed the new riding crop rules in December 2019 and they were adopted September 16, 2020.

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“We’re excited about these reforms because they’ll go a long way toward making horse racing safer here in New Jersey while at the same time preserving the sport’s rich tradition and enhancing fan appeal,” said Executive Director Judith A. Nason said after the rules was adopted. “At the Racing Commission we are committed to ensuring the horses are treated humanely, and to protecting the safety of all racing participants.”

The Monmouth thoroughbred meet is the first in the state since the rule went into effect.

Joe Bravo, a 13-time riding champion at Monmonth, has said he will not compete at the track this summer because of the new rule.

There will be six races on Friday’s cards with 45 horses entered. Fourteen jockeys jockeys were listed to ride on the card.

The track has threatened to ban any rider who refuses to ride in protest on Friday.

John Heims, the track’s racing secretary, said the jockeys have known about the rule change for a while and they should not have accepted mounts if they were not going to fulfill their riding obligation.

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Heims said the track’s stewards would be responsible for enforcing violations of the riding crop rule. Meyocks noted even showing a horse a riding crop can not to done to encourage a mount to run.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” Heims said. “But I know that every jockey and exercise rider that has been licensed had to be the stewards in advance so the ruled can be explained to them. So there is zero ambiguity.”

The jockey colony at the track is expected to have Nik Juarez and Ferrin Peterson, last year’s second-leading rider, join the group this weekend. Paco Lopez, a seven-time riding champion at the Shore track, is expected to arrive next weekend.

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