Jockeys’ weight allowances: Should they be raised?

"There hasn’t yet been a move to consider raising allowances to alleviate health risks of jockeys."


A horseracing aficionado has this to say about weight allowances for jockeys and apprentices: “Start with the incoming apprentices, Make the handicap weight allowances half a kilo (500 grams) in all weight scales. Ex., 52 kgs., up to 52.5 kgs, only. 52.5, up to 53; 58, up to 58.5 only. This system will be implemented on incoming apprentices only, and for the rest of their riding careers. The older jockeys will continue with the present system. 

“This will hopefully start a domino effect,” with the older jockeys under the old system  losing mounts because the younger riders are lighter and more fit. They (older jockeys) will have to start getting in shape and having more discipline again like when they were apprentices also.”

The comment above assumes that the old system of lightweight allowances for riders is the proper way to go. However, the reality is that people are getting taller and heavier over the decades. There are health risks associated with the drastic weight loss efforts (vomiting, steaming, self-starving, use if furosemide) that jockeys put themselves through in order to make weight.

Writing for The Guardian in 2006, British flat jockey Richard Hughes said: “There is a real problem with the health of jockeys if the weight restrictions stay as they are. Most of us want the weights raised. It’s only the really small lads…who want the situation to stay the same, because they will not be in such demand if it changes. 

“We try to laugh it off and there is a bit of banter about it among the jockeys, but the vast majority know that a change is needed. The situation is related to bulimia and alcohol abuse, and it has been a problem for a long time…

“The argument that modern jockeys are not as disciplined as those of the past is bollocks. You could take any 10 jockeys and they would all be dedicated and professional. 

“As for the dangers to horses from heavier jockeys, that is rubbish too. Even young horses ride out every morning with big stable lads and heavy tack, sometimes more than 12 stone.

“I’m not suggesting anything drastic, just a change of a few pounds that would make sense and help protect jockeys in the future.”

In the US, efforts to raise weight allowances have been underway for at least a couple of decades. Natalie Voss, writing in 2017 for the Paulick Report, said: “Darrell Haire, regional manager for the Jockeys’ Guild, remembers when 6’2” or 6’3” was big for a basketball player, and 200 pounds was a reasonable weight for a professional football player. 

“The human frame is taller and larger than it used to be, especially for professional athletes. As professional athletes have grown bigger, it’s expected they will weigh more. Unless those athletes are jockeys…

“[Haire] began lobbying for increased scales about 17 years ago, when he asked Guild riders what weight they believed would keep them both healthy and fit. It has been something of an uphill battle, as the industry often resists change…”

In the Philippines, the issue of weight allowances takes up a good deal of the discourse but always in relation to the old system. There hasn’t yet been a move to consider raising allowances to alleviate health risks of jockeys. It is high time we do so. 

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Dr. Ortuoste, a writer and researcher, has a PhD in Communication. Facebook: Gogirl Racing, Twitter: @drhoarsewhsprr

Topics: jockey , horse racing , Darrell Haire , Natalie Voss , Richard Hughes
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