THE Ballina Cup came within minutes of being cancelled yesterday after a snap nationwide strike by jockeys, following failed negotiations with the Australian Racing Board over controversial whip rules brought in last month.
Representatives of the racing community met with the ARB in Sydney yesterday.
The ARB rejected any changes to the rules which cap the amount of times a jockey can strike his mount in the final 200m of a race. Riders also have to use a new padded whip.
Jockeys refused to continue riding at other venues including Ballarat, Hawkesbury and Ipswich, but Ballina was eventually spared because it was hosting the Cup meeting with a crowd of about 3000 to 4000 people.
At one stage riders at the Ballina Jockey Club refused to continue and there were genuine fears the race day would be abandoned.
Jockeys had a meeting following the running of the Newmarket Handicap which was run at 2.45pm, and 10 minutes later there was an announcement that the jockeys would strike for an hour and then make another decision about whether to continue.
Heated negotiations took place in the jockey room while BJC officials, trainers, owners and spectators were left in confusion.
After 25 stress-filled minutes, word came through the jockeys would ride the card with races delayed. A roar of approval came from the crowd.
Eventually the Cup race, which was scheduled to start at 4.35pm, ran at 4.50pm.
Sydney rider Neil Paine, who won the Cup aboard All Our Way, was one calling for jockeys to walk out.
“The majority voted to ride, the other jockeys wanted to ride so we do as they say,” he said.
“I spoke to Paul Innes who was our representative down there today at the meeting before race four and he said 'we didn't ask for much and we didn't get anything'.
“This will go further. As far as I know there will be no races at the weekend.”
When asked if he agreed with the decision to carry on, Mr Paine said he wouldn't like to comment.
BJC president Keith Morrow struggled to contain his emotions after the jockeys decision.
The Ballina Cup makes up about 40 per cent of the BJC's revenue, which has been hit hard after four TAB meetings were cancelled earlier this year due to rain.
“It's a great thing that they stuck with us for the Cup, if it had been an ordinary meeting and they'd gone out you'd accept it,” Mr Morrow said.
“You get two shots a year, Ballina Cup and Boxing Day, and it would have been devastating if they'd walked out.
“I support these fellas and all the jockeys and where they're coming from. I think probably what has come out of it is that they will get more support from trainers, owners and the crowd by carrying on.”
Leading Coffs Harbour trainer Brett Bellamy said the jockeys made the right call to continue.
“Common sense has prevailed,” he said.
The whip rules were changed after lobbying from animal welfare organisations. In fact, Animal Liberation yesterday called for the ban of all whips during racing.
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