The idea that whip use is critical to thoroughbred racing integrity is culturally entrenched but lacks empirical support. To test the longstanding beliefs that whip use aids steering, reduces interference, increases safety and improves finishing times, we conducted a mixed-method analysis of 126 race reports produced by official stewards of the British Horseracing Authority, representing 1178 jockeys and their horses. We compared reports from 67 "Hands and Heels" races, where whips are held but not used (whipping-free, WF), with 59 reports from case-matched races where whipping was permitted (whipping permitted, WP). Qualitative coding was used to identify and categorise units of analysis for statistical testing via logistic regression and linear mixed model regression. For both types of race, we explored stewards having anything to report at all, movement on course, interference on course, incidents related to jockey behaviour and finishing times. There were no statistically significant differences between WF and WP races for anything to report (OR: 3.06; CI: 0.74-14.73), movement on course (OR: 0.90; CI: 0.37-2.17), interference (OR: 0.90; CI: 0.37-2.17), jockey-related incidents (OR: 1.24; CI: 0.32-5.07), and race times (0.512 s, t = 1.459, p = 0.150). That is, we found no evidence that whip use improves steering, reduces interference, increases safety or improves finishing times. These findings suggest that the WF races do not compromise racing integrity. They also highlight the need for more effective ways to improve the steering of horses.
Keywords: integrity; jockeys; public perception; risk; safety; social license to operate; steering.