IT'S been a week of intense debate. The deadline has arrived; it’s make your mind up time. What do we want? How much consideration do we need to give to the Irish?

I refer, of course, not to Brexit – but the Cheltenham Festival, where somewhere in the region of 60,000 people have been turning up each day with nothing else on their minds but horseracing. Amongst the chatter about the best European steeplechasers and hurdlers (most are bred in Britain, Ireland and France with a sprinkling from Germany), there is barely a mention of parliamentary debate or discussion about public opinion.

Until a politician mentions equine welfare; It’s a cheery sign of how myopic the racing fraternity can be.

We love horses. We love their beauty, their strength, their speed, their agility. As Winston Churchill said, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.” And yet there are is a strand of public opinion, quite disconnected from those who engage in the sport, which believes racing people don’t care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Government has tasked the British Horseracing Authority with the responsibility for ensuring that the highest standards of welfare are upheld in our sport, which is one of the reasons why jockeys are under so much scrutiny at this high-profile meeting. So how far will changing public opinion shape the future of our sport? What about the whip, for example?

If you hit something or someone, you generally get a reaction. Horses run faster if you smack their rump with a whip and, when I was at school, we stopped talking in the classroom when we got smacked in the head with a board-rubber.

It isn’t necessarily a long-lasting reaction – we often received two or three blows in quick succession before we learnt to keep our heads down. In other words, the effect is short-lived and soon forgotten – which can be used as an argument both for and against the use of a whip for chastisement or encouragement. You could argue that smacking has no long-term impact and therefore does no harm, or that it has no long-term effect and is therefore pointless. The choice is yours, but public opinion in recent decades has swung against the use of force.

Teachers now deploy more subtle means to encourage children to learn and they still somehow appear to be passing exams.

When it comes to horseracing, the whip isn’t the only means of encouraging a horse to run faster. Jockeys use their bodies to collect and balance a horse, they encourage horses to lengthen their stride by using hands and heels, they urge them to move faster using their voice. If American, our selection at Uttoxeter today, were to win his race in a slower time because none of the jockeys carried whips, would it really matter?

I don’t believe that the whips should be taken away on welfare grounds, but I wouldn’t be too bothered if the sport continued without them either.

And while it’s an intriguing debate for racing enthusiasts, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the rest of the world is busy talking about something else entirely!