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Friday, May 28, 2010

A Weighty Issue

By Remi Bellocq, National HBPA CEO

During last December’s University of Arizona Symposium on Racing, a compelling presentation regarding jockey weights was made by The Jockeys’ Guild. Click here to see their Power Point Presentation.

As the Jockeys’ Guild presentation points out, U.S. racing rules have no uniformity regarding weights. Most racing jurisdictions have established differing scales of weight, and many have different rules on weighing procedures.

For example, some rules mandate that riders weigh in without safety equipment (overgirth, helmet) but make weighing the required safety vest optional. Thus, lighter riders weigh with a vest (around 2 lbs.), and heavier riders don’t. This rule needs to be standardized.

As for a national minimum weight, science unequivocally shows us that due to better nutrition and health care, humans are, on average, bigger and heavier than 50 years ago – even those with small frames who would potentially become riders. Yet, by and large here in the U.S., the weights our racing offices assign have changed little in decades.

The time has come for U.S. racing to recognize the need for standardized rules in this area and work with jockeys, tracks, and regulators to pass more uniform weight rules.

Based on this data, The Jockeys’ Guild proposed the following changes to existing RCI Model Rules (http://ag.arizona.edu/rtip/industry/model_rules_info.html), which serve as guidelines for local racing jurisdictions:

ARCI-010-020 Weights
C. Scale of Weights
(1) With the exception of apprentices, no jockey shall be assigned a weight of less than 118 pounds.
(2) Quarter Horses, Appaloosas and Paints minimum scale weights shall be 120 pounds for two-year-olds, 122 pounds for three-year-olds, and 124 pounds for four-year-olds and older.
(3) A notice shall be included in the daily program that all jockeys will carry approximately three (3) pounds more than the published weight to account for safety equipment (vest and helmet) that is not included in required weighing out procedures. Additionally, upon stewards’ approval, jockeys may weigh in with an additional three (3) pounds for inclement weather gear when approved by the stewards.

ARCI-010-035 Running of the Race
C. Jockey Requirements
(7) Weighing Out
(a) A jockey's weight shall include his/her clothing, boots, saddle and its attachments and any other equipment except the bridle, bit, blinkers, goggles, number cloth and safety equipment including helmet, vest, over-girth, reins and breast collar.
(b) Upon Stewards approval, jockeys may be allowed up to three (3) pounds more than published weights to account for inclement weather clothing and equipment.

By and large, the feedback I have received regarding uniformity in weight rules has been supportive. However, several HBPA affiliates have raised concern that 118 pounds is too high for a minimum weight.

Based on The Jockeys’ Guild’s research, it is evident that in many regions, the bottom weight assigned to journeymen riders is already very close to 118 pounds.

Nonetheless, if the ultimate goal is to end up with a consistent set of rules regarding the weighting of horses, I am certain the proposed minimum could be adjusted.

But on the general point of raising the minimum weight assigned to riders, I suggest this would be a benefit to horsemen for one key reason: extending the careers of those good, experienced, hard-working riders by a few years.

Some concerns I’ve been hearing are that raising the minimum weight would:
  • Just allow exercise riders to ride races
  • Result in “heavy” riders who now struggle making weight continuing to do so
  • Cause more breakdowns
I submit that raising the scale of weights by a few pounds won’t change either of the first two concerns. Skilled riders will always rise to the top, and the rule should be aimed squarely at the professional, disciplined rider who is serious about how he/she controls his/her weight.

To the third point, horses carry 140–150 pounds in the morning and, in steeplechasing, may carry 160-170 pounds over 2 ½-miles and over 18 jumps. Granted, they run slower than flat racing horses. To an 800 – 900 pound racehorse, adding another three to four pounds represents 0.5 percent of that horse’s body weight. Hardly a staggering impost.

We’ve lost some of our best homegrown riders to slightly higher minimum weights. Imagine if Steve Cauthen or Cash Asmussen could have ridden their entire careers in the U.S.?

It’s time to work together to pass sensible and uniform weight rules.

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