Jockey Davy Russell has been given a four-day ban after punching a horse on the back of the head.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 5, 2017
A veteran Irish jockey has been giving a four-day ban from the sport for punching the back of a horse’s head at a race last month, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The incident, which animal rights groups and many on social media labeled appalling, took place Aug. 18 at the Tramore racetrack. Davy Russell, a two-time champion jockey in Ireland, lost control of his emotions while atop Kings Dolly after the horse pulled up ahead of a handicap hurdle. Russell didn’t just scold the mare; he punched her on the back of the head.
— GetYourTipsOut (@GetYourTipsOut) September 5, 2017
Russell wasn’t immediately punished for striking the horse. Instead the Irish sport’s governing body, the Turf Club, gave Russell a warning for “bringing the sport into disrepute” through his violent action.
This failed to satisfy animal rights groups and fans on social media, where video of the incident began to go viral. One tweet, which complained about the lack of punishment and included video of the incident, was retweeted nearly 10,000 times.
Meanwhile, animal rights groups, including the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, began to speak out.
“The ISPCA is appalled by the incident . . . and believes that this behavior is completely unacceptable,” the animal rights group said in a statement last week. “We are disappointed that the jockey was sanctioned not for hitting the horse but for damaging the reputation of horse racing, under rule 272.”
“The same jockey was banned for 14 days last year for being rude to a steward,” the ISPCA added. “It is alarming that the Irish Turf Club treated that breach of its rules more seriously than hitting a horse.”
David Murit, the equine consultant for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, appeared to have a softer view of the 38-year-old jockey but still disagreed with the Turf Club’s decision.
“Davy Russell is not a bad jockey, and it was out of character, but hitting a horse like he did is completely unacceptable. It’s a nonsense,” Muir told the Racing Post last week. “Where he struck her is a major muscular area and it probably hurt Russell more than the horse — but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Horses, like any other animal, should be treated with respect, and punching one is disrespectful.”
With criticism ramping up, the Turf Club asked its appeal body to review the case, which it did Tuesday and found the original warning “unduly lenient,” according to the Guardian.
Russell defended himself by arguing the hit was a “slap” and that he was just attempting to get the horse to concentrate.
“At that stage she was out of control and if she had continued in that vein during the race then I would have had a very difficult time trying to control her,” he told At the Races (via the Independent). “I just needed to let her know there was someone on her back and I thought a slap on the soft of the neck was the appropriate action.”
Russell has not publicly commented since his four-day ban was announced.
Social media, of course, had a lot to say, with many complaining the four-day ban remains an inadequate punishment.
It's hard to put a penalty time on cruelty to animals but 4 days is laughable.
— Paul Lancett (@sheep_69_) September 5, 2017
Should be given a season ban
— Zac Jones (@Zacjones94) September 5, 2017
Should be 2 weeks ban minimum and a hefty fine and it should be over the Cheltenham festival and grand national so he doesn't ride big races
— Tom Evans (@Tde619Tom) September 5, 2017