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Del Mar Racetrack to require softer riding crops

Beginning Wednesday, the Del Mar Racetrack will become the first track in California to require all jockeys to use softer riding crops, it was reported Tuesday.

Fairground officials made the decision to ban hard leather whips at the urging of animal-rights activists, who say the stiff leather stings a horse’s hides and sometimes leaves raw welts, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Softer riding crops work by making a “pop’’ noise when it hits the horse instead of causing a sting.

“Instead of running from the sting, they’re running from the sound,’' Jockeys’ Guild regional manager Darrell Haire told the newspaper.

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Each year, veterinarians who check horses after races file about two dozen complaints over whip welts with the California Horse Racing Board. Problems typically arise when a jockey accidentally hits a horse on its tender flank or belly, the Union-Tribune reported.

Other notable tracks that recently began requiring softer riding crops include Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York, and Pimlico in Maryland. The next track in California expected to make the switch is Hollywood Park this fall.