‘They Just Want To Ride’: Small Changes In Scale Of Weights Have Big Impact On Jockeys’ Health

by | 02.08.2017 | 11:53am

Somewhere in a corner of the jockeys' room at Santa Anita Park hangs an old set of forgotten silks. Veteran rider Mike Smith thinks they're only about 20 years old, but when a few other jockeys found them and tried them on, the silks didn't fit.

“I think society in general is different and we don't make [people] as small as we used to,” said Smith. “Times have changed.”

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.

A fragmented system

As is true for so much in the racing world, there is no enforced standard for assigning weights to jockeys. The RCI model rules suggest a jockey should not carry less than 118 pounds with the exception of apprentices, but legally, that code remains a suggestion in most places. Instead, the amount a rider may weigh is up to the racing secretary at an individual track. Weights have evolved over the decades but not as much or as quickly as some say they should.

A look back shows progress in steps, not strides. A flip through a chart book for 1929 shows weights as low as 95 pounds, with most hovering between 110 and 120 pounds in non-handicaps. A sampling of weights from charts on Jan. 28 of this year shows weights as low as 115 for journeymen at Gulfstream Park and 114 at Oaklawn Park, with high weights at those tracks ranging up to 123 and 124, respectively.

In most cases, a racing secretary chooses a maximum weight for a given race condition and subtracts different allowances for each horse based on its individual profile. Three-year-olds running against older company are generally assigned slightly less weight early in the season, as are females running against males. At one time, a scale of weights published by the Jockey Club was the generally-accepted starting point for secretaries.

A Toledo Scale used in the Winner's Circle at Hollywood Park to weigh the winning jockeys was Lot #1 for today's auction and was sold for $4,750 to an on-line bidder.

A Toledo Scale used in the Winner's Circle at Hollywood Park to weigh the winning jockeys was Lot #1 for today's auction and was sold for $4,750 to an on-line bidder.

Jockeys' Guild National Manager Terry Meyocks is a former racing secretary and said he has seen a gradual evolution in the scale of weights since at least the 1980s.

“Since 2007 we've had a good rapport with the ARCI Model Rules Committee in changing the rules and getting them updated,” said Meyocks. “At the same time, it needs to be adopted throughout the country. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, to get our industry to pull together and work on something that would be beneficial to all parties.”

Ben Huffman is racing secretary for Keeneland and Churchill Downs and previously served the same role at Ellis Park and Fair Grounds. During his tenure in Kentucky, the state became one of the only racing jurisdictions to pass a rule stating riders may not be assigned less than 118 pounds unless they were apprentices, riding fillies against colts, or aboard 3-year-olds racing older horses.

Since the rule was enacted, Huffman sets weights using almost the reverse of the usual practice; his maximum weight for a race is based, in part, on making sure allowances don't take a jockey below the 118 minimum.

“There's an obvious recognition in the industry I think, for the health of the riders to be a little higher than they were say, 10 or 15 years ago,” said Huffman. “I like where we're at in Kentucky, I really do. I think it's reasonable. Jockeys still need to be small for the health of the horse and the jockey. At first, I didn't agree with it, when this change came about but over time as I've watched it, I've watched some of our jockeys change their lifestyles and exercise more, I've grown to appreciate where we're at in Kentucky with the weight allowances.”  

In most places, apprentice riders are still expected to carry the least amount of weight, sometimes seven to 10 pounds less than their colleagues, despite being the same size. The original philosophy behind the practice was to give apprentices a better shot at getting work, since trainers might be willing to go with an unfamiliar face if they perceive an advantage on the scales. They do have the option of riding over weight, however, and trainers are sometimes known to instruct that they don't need to make the full allowance.

Many jockeys get on a variety of horses throughout the day, and as a result are assigned a variety of weights. If a lower-weight assignment comes late in the day, that often means making weight early in the day and not eating or drinking until the end of the card.

“If you tack 118, you get to weigh 115. That's not bad. Three or four pounds down lower than that, that's when it really gets to you,” said Mike Smith. “And you can do it for one race, but you've got to remember you might be riding five others before that one. You're not at your best. You can't be.”

Huffman believes more recent information about rider health has driven a gradual, unofficial increase of minimum weights in many places.

Darrell 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, but he reports progress.

“I've worked on this for years now, and finally it's starting to happen,” said Haire, a former jockey himself. “They don't really know what they're doing to these riders. It's not right. This is something that's a long time coming. And it's got to be the same throughout the country.”

There could be added equine safety concerns with additional weights, too, but Haire isn't convinced a few pounds is likely to have a significant impact on horses. Seventeen years ago, riders told him they needed a reliable minimum of around 118 pounds, which puts them at around 115 pounds in body weight – just two or three pounds higher than what many of them averaged at the time. Three pounds is a difference of 2.6 percent of a 115-pound jockey's weight. Three pounds is .3 percent of a 1,000-pound Thoroughbred's weight, and represents roughly the difference in weight between a jockey's racing tack and an exercise rider's tack.

The results of low numbers

It's no secret some jockeys have gone to extremes to make weight. Vomiting, spending hours in the sauna, running around the track in plastic sweat suits, or taking furosemide have been common tactics on top of reducing food and fluid intake.

Less commonly understood is that all these methods are focused primarily on quick weight loss and they result in the loss of water, not fat, leading to profound dehydration.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith

Dehydration is uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst, even for a sedentary person. For a rider preparing for the demands of race-riding, it combines miserable symptoms, reduced performance, and a sizable dose of medical risk paired with the safety risk they already assume by piloting a Thoroughbred traveling at 35 miles per hour. When you're dehydrated, jockeys say, your mouth gets dry. Your eyes and skin become itchy. Your head throbs, and your muscles lose power. Your calves and hamstrings can begin cramping, and since you can't down a sports drink, they may not relax for hours. Reaction times slow down, balance is reduced, and many people become light-headed and dizzy — a terrible recipe while aboard a horse.

Mike Smith points out the emotional impact of a body starved for food and fluid; not only are reaction times slower, but judgment is impaired. Tempers are short.   

“I would like to think so many wrong decisions were made because we weren't hydrated enough and didn't have the food in our body,” said Smith. “I don't think we realized back in the day how important hydrating the body is and how important food really is. It's fuel, fuel for the body, and I think back then we didn't think about it much. You just tried to get as light as you could and you didn't care what you felt like.”

Dr. Kelly Ryan, sports medicine physician at MedStar Sports Medicine, said there could be more serious impacts of dehydration, too. Heart rates increase when the body is dehydrated because there is a lower volume of blood flowing through the body; kidneys can struggle, and may be followed by the liver and other organs in cases of dehydration combined with overheating. Riders may have difficulty maintaining body temperature and may not be able to sweat as normal. All of this is amplified on hot, humid days as jockeys go to the post in long sleeves under a safety vest and helmet.

“This was my first summer covering at the racetrack and I was very concerned about whether or not we'd be seeing organ damage, renal dysfunction,” said Ryan, one of several physicians hired by Maryland horsemen to provide medical consultation and treatment to jockeys and stable workers.

Dehydration and heat stress were blamed for the 2005 death of Emanuel Jose Sanchez at Colonial Downs. Sanchez, an apprentice, collapsed in the shower room after riding on a steamy weekday card at the Virginia track and never regained consciousness. ESPN's Bill Finley noted the rider had been warned about his unsafe weight reduction strategies earlier in the meet.

Then there's the question of concussions. At this year's Jockey's Guild Assembly, several riders questioned whether dehydration could increase the impact of head traumas. The brain and spinal cord are protected in part by cerebrospinal fluid, and riders like Smith believe with less fluid, there's less cushion on the brain during a fall. Ryan says there's no research to confirm or refute this, but it's an idea she thinks should be investigated. She knows of at least one jockey who recovered from his concussion and found a trip to the hotbox brought all his symptoms back, worse than ever. That rider still competes, but no longer sits in the sauna for extended periods.

Having worked with athletes in several other sports, Ryan said Thoroughbred racing is like nothing she's ever seen with regard to its weight restrictions. Even wrestlers, who must weigh in before a match, don't weigh out afterwards and may have several hours to replenish fluids or nutrition between the weigh-in and the fight. Wrestlers are also given a minimum weight based on maintaining a specific Body Mass Index. Meyocks reports English and Irish jockeys are also assigned a minimum weight required by stewards, per advice from doctors.

“I didn't grow up in racing so from the perspective of an outsider who manages athletes, everything is so much stricter than in all of our other sports,” Ryan said. “When football players practice, [coaching staff] weigh them before practice and they weigh them after practice. They actually calculate out how much fluid loss they've had and tell them how much they're supposed to drink, what they're supposed to drink, and what they're supposed to eat because they're so concerned about water loss, and they're so concerned about electrolyte imbalances.”

Change is coming

Haire said racing secretaries in California, Arizona, and Oregon have begun raising the scale of weights by a few pounds to give riders a break over the past year. Race conditions in those states have increased the minimum weights for journeyman riders by two or three pounds and have made them more consistent. Santa Anita's Jan. 29 card had no weights under 118 pounds for journeyman riders (apprentices still carry far less). California began adjusting conditions last spring, and Haire can see a difference.

“What's happening here in California is the racing secretaries, by working with us and sitting with us, they really get it,” said Haire. “People are accepting it because they know these riders look healthy and can actually do the weight. In the jocks' room, the atmosphere is so much better.”

Though two or three pounds doesn't sound like much in the face of excessive dehydration and malnutrition, Mike Smith said the difference it can make is incredible.

“You'd be amazed what two pounds will do. It's a meal. It's a bottle of water and a meal,” said Smith. “It means a lot.

“In California, it's great. I can eat two meals a day and then work out and feel great and ride strong, if not stronger than ever. It's so important.”

Having a consistent, reasonable minimum weight also allows Smith to keep his energy levels up. Early in his career, he remembers riders struggling to find the balance between working out enough to maintain fitness for race riding without burning off so many calories as to weaken themselves before first post – most of the time, they couldn't afford to replace those calories with food until the day's end.

Aspiring jockeys at the North American Racing Academy work out on equicizers (Photo David Stephenson)

Aspiring jockeys at the North American Racing Academy work out on equicizers (Photo David Stephenson)

Critics of raising the scale of weights suggest with higher minimums, larger riders could take extreme measures to make the cut. Haire hopes stewards might step in and refuse to issue licenses to riders who are too big to safely make weight.

“No matter how high the weights eventually go, there's always going to be somebody that's bigger trying to reduce. You'll never stop that,” agreed Ben Huffman. “Regardless of what the weights are, whether it's 116, 118, or even if it was ever raised to 128, there'd be guys reducing to make that weight. That's always going to be there, but big picture horsemen want their jockeys to be as light as possible, and everyone's quite aware we want our jockeys to be as healthy and strong as possible.”

The other problem with keeping riders healthy, in Ryan's experience, is a lack of basic education about safe diet and exercise regimes. Ryan consults with apprentice riders when they start on the Maryland circuit to do a basic physical and get some medical history. She also uses the time to review safe practices, but not all jockeys get the benefit of a physician's advice. The lucky ones may be mentored by older riders, which may or may not mean they're given healthy advice.

“So many riders, this is how they grew up,” said Ryan. “They don't know the repercussions of dehydrating. They don't know that if you dehydrate too heavily you could potentially go into kidney failure and then your liver could start failing.

“They don't think about that type of stuff. They just want to ride.”

  • Shasta Sam

    Often heard that part of the great Willie Shoemaker’s success (besides superior riding skills and judgement) was that he was a “natural” 105 lbs without ever having the issue of making weight.

    • wjfraz

      True but his horses carried the dead weight of lead to make the weight. He had at least twenty pounds of dead weight in every Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Most trainers would rather not have a horse carry dead weight. In addition the riders today are not weighed with their helmets, whips or vests. Those add up to about five or six pounds so when you see a horse with 120, they are actually carrying 125.

      • Bubba

        “dead weight”? Are you serious? Most trainers would rather have a heavy saddle that is secured in place and not moving as opposed to a jockeys body moving which can and does cause them to become unbalanced. Not a true example, but try this, put a 80 pound pack pack on snug and go run. Now take a 80 pound child on your back holding on and moving all over and run. Your balance will be less affected by the secure weight.

  • Racing Fan

    The weights should stay the same for the safety of the horses. I’d love to play center for the Knicks but I’m not tall enough. So, I found another profession. Jockeys who need to blow chunks in order to make weight should do the same.

    • Cyradis4

      …. You are aware that steeplechase riders weigh more than flat riders, races over several miles, and jump fences too, all on the same breed (and often horses)? Most chasers being former racers. And some of the races are up and down hills? For a steeplechase rider, the average is 140 lbs.

      That difference in weight makes no difference to the horse. And that doesn’t count what event horses carry!

      • Racing Fan

        And 6 furlong races on dirt at 40 mph are more strenuous on their skeletal system – ask any research person and they would agree.

        • longtimehorsewoman

          Exactly, which is why we need to get rid of sprints and go for longer races. Which are more interesting anyway.

    • Joseph Clark

      Every generation of jockeys want higher weight so they can keep riding, meanwhile the horses who have had the soundness bred out of them suffer. There is no shortage of light jockeys. Only greedy people who don’t care about the wellbeing of the horse. Where does it stop?

    • horsepower

      if you eliminate all the riders “blowing chunks” , you likely wipe out 1/2 the colony

      • Racing Fan

        Not true. Most hispanics make weight just fine.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      It has nothing to do with the safety of the horses – it’s about faster times.

  • wjfraz

    I think the safety of the riders is paramount. Over my lifetime, many of my friends who were jockeys and who I rode against, have died prematurely. Some never made it age 30 and some died years later as the effects flipping, reducing, laxatives and diuretics worked to destroy their bodies. The very people who want to keep weights low are people who pig out a buffet or are rotund and overweight themselves. Horses are bigger than even the 1960’s, Look at Arrogate, Zenyatta, Dortmund and other behemoths. Think they couldn’t carry five pounds more? It is a ludicrous notion as well. This needs to be rethought and do something for the health and safety of the riders. How many of you will daily take laxative, diuretics or flipping as a way to keep you job? None of you and yet you force the riders to do so. Shame on you

    • Cyradis4

      I agree with you. If steeplechase horses can carry 140+ lbs over 4 miles and 16+ jumps that are 4 ft tall, and they are the same horses we see running in flat races, there is no physical reason flat racers can’t do the same. And some ‘Chases are up and down large hills! And event horses carry even more, over worse.

      It all comes down to tracks and owners wanting fast times. More weight = slower times. I think the rider’s safety is more important than times, myself.

      • Shasta Sam

        “…they are the same horses we see running in flat races…”

        THAT is just plain wrong. They are not even close to the same. Our horses are totally different. Much finer boned. Bred for speed not endurance. 50+ years ago (look at greats like Gun Bow, Round Table, Seabiscuit, etc) our horses looked much different but with the rise of Lukas and later Baffert, the typology of our horses changed drastically (along with their soundness) and NOT for the better.

        • horsepower

          can’t do more to cater to BB and DWL……..do whats right for horsemen, jocks and our horses

        • Cyradis4

          That’s strange, I’ve never heard that Dynaformer (Sire of 3 time Eclipse winner McDynamo) was a Chaser sire. (and yes McDynamo started 4 times on the flat before going to ‘Chases).

          Hmmm…. Interesting, I never realized that Pulpit was a Steeplechase sire! Imagine that, California Chrome’s grandsire is really a *steeplechaser*! How else to explain the graded winning Steeplechaser Sermon of Love? Who, who’d a thunk, started out at Laurel park racing on the flat!

          Then we have poor Thunder Gulch, who also is apparently a steeplechase sire (G1 winning Spy in the Sky). Oh wait…. Spy in the Sky started on the flat too….

          Yes, I’m being sarcastic. My point is this: do not make statements without the facts to back them up. I remember McDynamo, and the other two are among the last 10 winners of the Turf Writers Cup over hurdles, and I (who am not a breeding afficianado) instantly recognized their sires.

          • Shasta Sam

            You seem to be saying…”Who do you believe… me or your own lying eyes?” Are there exceptions? Of course. But if you can’t SEE the difference (and statistically associated lack of soundness) between today’s horses and those of the not so distant past, then you’re just not looking.

          • Cyradis4

            Yes, there are differences between now and 100 years ago. Which has zero bearing on Steeplechasers, which is what I said. I own an off-track Thoroughbred, and have worked with a couple as well as with Mustangs, Quarter Horses, a Morgan, and several mutts. I also know that a large part of today’s TB problems are DRUGS, because those same lineages in Europe don’t have nearly the problems ours do.

            I also know that if a 1000 lb horse isn’t capable of carrying 130 lbs, then they have no business carrying 120 lbs, nor of being on a race track. And keep in mind: that’s what they carry in the mornings!

            And I also know that race riding is brutally hard, and I have absolutely zero doubt that many a bad decision in a race that led to injury or fatality would have been avoided if the jocks weren’t in poor mental shape.

            As for the he-said / she said, I gave direct proof in horse names and race records for my assertions, whereas you called me a liar with no proof.

        • Gls

          The next time you see entries for a hurdle race check out the breeding. I bet a lot of the names look familiar.

        • wjfraz

          That is the fault of the industry which places speed over stamina and bone structure. The attrition rate for two year-olds is probably greater than fifty percent. I worked for a big trainer and started with 117 colts and fillies yet only about forty of them made it to the races. It is irrational to then give steroids, which the farms do to produce muscle mass on spindly legs. Very stupid.

          • longtimehorsewoman

            Agreed!

      • Erin Casseday

        Just to point out a couple of facts. Chasers and event horses are also fully mature aged horses. You cannot make a weight carrying comparison to developing two and three year olds. Now, I am not against using the weight limit for the jockeys to keep a healthy balance for them.

        • longtimehorsewoman

          Excellent point. And a reason to stop racing 2-year-olds, at the very least. it’s a well known fact that horses are not fully mature until age 6. They are not at full strength of power, And few have the opportunity. If you look at the truly successful runners John Henry, Kelso, Wise Dan. They were mature. And who knows how much better they might have been, if they had not started racing until age 4 or 5?

          • tony a

            I’ll go out on a limb here but i’ll bet the number of horses that didn’t make their first start until 4yo and had modicum of success over the last 40 years can be counted on 1 hand.

          • wjfraz

            How about Zenyatta?

          • longtimehorsewoman

            Close. She made her first start in November of her 3-year-old year and second start in Dec. earned $54,000 that year. The next year, at 4 she earned over $2 million. So a good example.

          • tony a

            OK, so that’s one, I’m still counting on one hand.

          • longtimehorsewoman

            You would fall out of the tree because the limb would break. Just in the last few years I have watched TVG and there have been several horses who made their first starts at 4 and 5. Most recently one was in a race and won. Of course I wasn’t recording the results so I don’t remember the name of the horse. Wonder if there is a way to search.

          • wjfraz

            I totally agree. I have a two year-old filly that I am not going break until the spring even though she is a March foal. My intent is to race at the end of 2017 and not before.

          • Shannon

            What about basic Physics, Force equals Mass times Acceleration F.=M.A. Some parts of a horses lower legs are significantly smaller than human legs. Before raising the weight horses are required to carry in races; The additional stress of this weight on the horses’ legs ,body, etc. need to be addressed.

          • longtimehorsewoman

            That could be done. But the results might just prove horses should not be raced at full speed at all. And then what? And actually parts of horses legs that match our anatomy are not really smaller. The coffin bone – representing the bone at the end of our finger, is a good deal larger. The short pastern, the same as the second bone in our finger, also a good deal larger. And so on up to the actual bone from our wrist to our first knuckle which in the horse is the cannon bone, also much larger. Those same bones are repeated in the hind leg, the difference being they represent bones in our feet. The hock is the sane as our heel. Also much larger.

          • Alwuhush

            I will also point out the three you mentioned were/are all geldings.

            Wait until 6 to race entire male horses and you are racing stallions, not colts. Colts can be bad enough to work with. Stallions could be impossible. And dangerous.

            And you could kiss races for mares good-bye. Wait until 6 to start racing them and the good ones wouldn’t be breeding until 9 or 10. I don’t think many breeders would like that.

      • Lehane

        What seems to have been forgotten here is that flat racing is all about very fast speed and fast times for the breeding barn. I’m dead against heavy jockeys in flat racing. In Australia not that long ago, the Jockeys’ Association called for the minimum weight to be increased slightly and it was, by Racing Australia, and that’s what the jockeys wanted and they were happy with it, that is my understanding.

      • WT61

        Totally agree!

    • WT61

      My thoughts exactly.

    • McGov

      This is a ridiculous approach in racing. The health of jockeys has been shamefully put on the back burner, while traditions that embrace silly notions that horses would be affected by carrying 140 lbs…..at age 2 even…this is just absurd. Horses train endlessly carrying often much more than 140.
      Change is tough for some to get their heads around but this one is just plain stupid. Jockeys killing themselves to stay under 120 lbs while riding 1000-1300 lbs athletes…ridiculous no?? Who doesn’t think these horses could carry 20 more lbs??

    • Bill H

      I was the race secretary for a couple of small tracks in Saskatchewan several years ago. I trained horses prior to that and have many friends that were jockeys. I set the weights at scale, 125 lbs. Allowances were never more than 3 lbs. All trainers have the call on whether to accept up 5 lbs over on allowances (here anyway) so generally speaking all riders were good at about 124-130 lbs. Everyone was happy and healthy. Seemed to make all the sense in the world to me.

    • Concerned Observer

      But….have you considered this fact of human nature…..raise the weights and a lot of exercise riders that are too big to make the current jockey weights will start all the weight control methods in order to be a jockey. The problem does not actually go away, it just shifts to an all new and bigger group of riders.

  • secondlife

    People seem to forget that most exercise riders, the ones who ride the horses 6 or 7 days a week and even breeze them, weigh more than most jockeys. If the horses can survive the extra weight of a morning workout, I’m pretty sure they could survive a slightly heavier jockey. I’ve always thought it was kind of inhumane to force jockeys to be so tiny & lightweight to ride a horse.

    • Lehane

      There’s a big difference between a workout and a race. Definitely a lighter weighted rider in a race.

      • Curt Muth

        Weights outside NA and SA is higher, maidens run with 128 lbs for colt’s & geldings and 124 lbs for filly’s and mares.

  • Gary Oliver

    tell ya what ..lets see you tubby’s reduce to make weight..i did it for years pretty much ruined my kidney’s..try hitting the box for a couple of hrs..try flipping all your meals..you people who complain about the weight have never had to do it to make a living..im a natural 120 stripped..so that would meen with everything im hitting 126..if a horse cant carry 125 or more then it doesn’t need to be running…im now paying for my reducing..the ole body is wore out..so lets see the chubby’s do what all riders have done..try it for 1 week..bet you change your mind

  • Larry Burndorf

    All raising the weight will do is make bigger people want to ride.

    • Racing Fan

      Bingo ! It’s a bandaid only

    • longtimehorsewoman

      I don’t believe that’s true. And who would ride them if they did?

  • horsepower

    absolutely wake up and raise the minimum weights a few pounds. Take a little pressure off the jocks destroying their bodies to make weights. This should be a no brainer.

  • copperhead

    Ms. Voss really gets to the heart of so many important and under-reported stories.
    As a racing fan I would welcome seeing a slight increase in weights to allow jockeys to maintain a healthier diet. I want to see jockeys with the best hands, the best ability to relax and settle a horse, the best ability to make tactical moves, not the jockeys most willing to sacrifice their physical health by becoming bulimic.

    Humans’ shorter heights and smaller statures were one historical reason for these small weights. In the early history of racing there were no child labor laws, and it was entirely possible to have a 14 year old boy as the jockey, not a fully developed adult male. Also in the early history of US’s southern racing, slaves could have been the jockeys (and they might not have been as well nourished as the white horse owners.)

    A second point to remember about the weight and horses’ well being is that thoroughbreds and part-thoroughbreds are extremely well represented in the sport of eventing where they routinely carry much higher weights. At the top levels of this sport there are several riders over 6 ft tall (notably William Fox-Pitt and Boyd Martin.) Their horses are capable of galloping for over 10 minutes at 20 miles per hour over 40 jumps. Alternatively, in the sport of endurance racing, American Endurance Ride Conference’s featherweight division allows tack and rider weights of up to 160 pounds for horse that are going 50 and 100 miles in a single day. A healthy, 15-16 hand adult horse should not have difficulty carrying a 125-130 pound rider.

    Finally, this article mentions several serious negative health impacts of being chronically underweight and dehydrated. I believe that there are also studies showing reduced bone density in people with eating disorders. Consequently the extent of bone fractures could be another risk mitigated by increasing the jockeys’ allowed weights.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      Excellent post

  • Audrey Gulla

    Education/knowledge is a very good thing. These efforts might take awhile, but eventually I think there’ll help tremendously. I remember when the Surgeon General first posted warnings on cigarette packs all those years ago. I was still in grade school & despite not understanding what ‘cancer’ was, the warning had its effect. Took 14 years but eventually I quit. I believe given time these new proposals too will succeed in the end.

  • Adrian

    The big issue for me isn’t the weight for age scale. it’s the fact that American race conditions have allowances off these weights. These mean that European jockeys can’t do these weights if the horse is getting all the allowances. I don’t know how leading US jockeys can do them either. In Europe we penalise horses for achievements, in race conditions, rather than giving horses allowances for non achievement. This means that in conditions races most of our leading jockeys can do the weights. It’s why Cauthen and Asmussen came over here to ride in their latter years.

    • Tom Davis

      How is a horse in Europe penalised for achievement? If the horse wins carrying 126, does he carry 124 against same competition in next race?

      • Curt Muth

        No, base weight is 126 and a horse gets an extra 2 lbs for each win of let’s say a race valued over £ 10.000 during the last 12 month’s. So a horse who has 2 win’s in such races would get 130 lbs.
        Such a horse would instead run in a race where the penalty is based on races worth £15.000 or over.

  • Bubba

    How about they be allowed the extra weight contingent on better drug testing. Jockeys with a “prescription” for narcotic pain meds are allowed to ride with it in their system. Something the Jockeys Guild never brings up. If they need to have it in their system, then they shouldn’t be healthy enough to ride. People don’t make the correct decisions while using narcotic drugs. A horse can’t run with a trace of therapeutic medication but jockeys are allowed.

  • David Stevenson

    “The original philosophy behind the practice was to give apprentices a better shot at getting work, since trainers might be willing to go with an unfamiliar face if they perceive an advantage on the scales.”
    Actually, the 7-10lb weight allowances for apprentices was/is to encourage trainers to apprentice jockeys and be benefitted accordingly. it worked! But in modern U.S. racing the import of Latin American jockeys has almost negated that trend and purpose. Latin American jockeys are generally highly skilled at the time of arrival and are of a lighter frame and stature creating longevity in the ranks.
    The dietary practices of jockeys has not improved until the last 10-15 years and is still in need of highly skilled analysts and dietitians that should be attracted to the sport. Weight loss practices have been desperate, brutal, high risk and temporary because of ignorance and should command center stage of the Jockeys Guild. Laffit Pincay provided an outstanding example of what can be accomplished though medical oversight.

  • WT61

    It’s the trainers that whine about weight. How many times have you seen a horse scratched because the trainer didn’t like the weight assignment. If their horse can’t carry a few more pounds without breaking down then it shouldn’t be running.

    • longtimehorsewoman

      I agree.

  • Smittymon

    The dead weight is between the ears of people opposed to an increase in weight levels for the riders

  • Minneola

    I also wonder if jockeys have a tendency to osteoporosis? I’m seeing less support for calcium (and other) supplements but, rather, that there is more emphasis on acquiring calcium in a really good diet of foods that have that naturally in their makeup, which, of course, adds calories. However, weight-bearing exercises can be of benefit of strengthening bones but I have not seen any reports about jockeys and bone density measurements. Have you?

  • Keith Leo O’Brien

    I agree that the minimum weights should be raised. If this allows the jockeys to have a healthy and nutritious dinner, bravo. A healthier jockey is a stronger jockey and a better jockey!

  • kramhslew

    Rider Weight should have been addressed long ago.

  • val

    As others have said this is only going to encourage naturally bigger people to start reduce weight to make it as jockeys.
    Other than that this is the best anti Lasix article I’ve read so far

  • Eddie Donnally

    During my 19 career as a jockey, I regurgitated an average of 8 to 10 times a day and watched some two tons of sweat run down a variety of “hot box” drains. I knew day or night what I weighed within a single pound. I was so good at heaving, I could stand over a commode and carry on a conversation with someone outside the stall as I “emptied out.” It was like developing the muscles needed to do a one arm pushup. By the grace of God, I am a healthy 73 year old who still works at a position (hospice and hospital chaplain) I love. I fought to make 115, which meant I had to actually weigh 111. Had I been allowed to tack 118 or heaven forbid 120 pounds, my life would have been much easier. For many jockeys today, making weight is a harder job than riding races. I hope the racing world can live with those few added pounds. Eddie Donnally Author “Ride the White Horse.”

    • longtimehorsewoman

      I have always believed jockeys should be able to weigh more. For their own sakes as well as for the sake of racing as a whole. Healthy jockeys have more strength, better reaction times, clearer thinking and would probably also rely less on drinking drugs. Let those who criticize jockeys try to live like a jockey and take the risks jockeys take before feeling superior.

  • Carla Parrillo

    Some one who was an athlete in his time and a weight lifting and gym workout faithful, commented to me a few weeks ago that if their is a weight level to be reached that they add actual weights to the horses equipment. This is wrong on so many levels.
    Why can’t a weight and starting time handicap be set against the horse and riders instead of bearing all this extra weight and jeapodizing the health of horses and riders on so many levels.
    My family did Some stick car racing with FUNNY CARS. Out car was built with ability to make the car a light as possible. One of our advantages, sometimes. But in some of the races we would be given a .25sec handicap. It sometimes worked against us and at times it never affected us.
    Can’t some engineering of this regulation be done to set limits to keep the horse and,hockey healthy and safe?

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