That sound you hear of relieved jockeys praising the latest “commonsense” move on the whip in Britain is actually the hollow echo of the BHA’s credibility continuing to swirl down the plughole.
Of course the reality is that that credibility was fatally compromised last year when the controversial whip rules were introduced in the first place.
Too inflexible, and not containing the ultimate deterrent of disqualification, those rules always contained the ingredients for a massive self-inflicted injury. But for a short while they did at least provoke hopes that the fundamental culture of whip use in British racing might change.
Whether that culture needs to be changed is another matter. For most of us there are far greater threats to racing’s long-term viability than whether or not a jockey hits a horse nine times or ten with a foam-padded whip.
But to be credible, the BHA’s aims had to produce pain in the jockeys-room and the whip rules certainly managed that. Now that Paul Bittar has effectively restored the status quo, the jockeys are happy again.
So nothing has changed. We are back to square one where different steward’s panels have the use of this magical discretion, a discretion that no doubt will shortly be criticised as being too inconsistent and too discretionary.
In the short term though the likelihood of a public relations disaster over whip use at Cheltenham looks to have been averted: especially since the BHA now seem to be advocating a policy of letting things slide more on the really big days when jockeys tend to really go for it.
But while that might prevent a few headline grabbing suspensions, it only gives ammunition to opponents who decry racing’s attitude to the whip as opportunistic.
However if there was one body that came out of last week’s drama smelling even worse than the BHA, it has to be the RSPCA whose response to Brittar’s move was: “This is a black day for the racing industry, but the real losers are horses – jockeys have effectively been given a license to beat them with impunity.”
How that isn’t a completely counter-productive statement in every way is beyond most rational people who don’t have an agenda to push.
Instead of the whip, some thankfully more straightforward questions can dominate the Cheltenham countdown, including whether or not last year’s magic thirteen winner tally for Ireland was just a freak or something sustainable.
Based on last year’s evidence the first two days will be vital but judged by betting lists, and one or two pieces of novice form, dismissing 2011 as an aberration might be a dangerous thing to do.
Of course there is a history of the air being let out of over-inflated Irish hopes for the big week and let’s not forget how on the run-up to last year there were real fears the general economic situation would impact on the winner tally in a big way.
Those fears got dashed, and so resoundingly that we shouldn’t really have to be wary of the opposite happening this time. The horse power might be in a relatively small number of hands but they are Irish hands.
And to end, a nagging little irritant – do bookmakers not read the papers, watch telly or scan the web?
A cursory perusal of some ante-post lists for Cheltenham recently revealed a number of horses who have been ruled out of the festival already, or are injured, or even worse. One firm was quoting Lovethehigherlaw for one of the novice hurdles. Lovethehigherlaw died on the gallops months ago, something well-documented.
Whatever excuse bookies might have in terms of how over the years horses have been ruled out only to be suddenly ruled back in, quoting Lovethehigherlaw is carelessness at best and rank opportunism at worst.