Racing: Why Don't They... Let jockeys eat properly?

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The Independent Online
IT IS TIME for horse racing to grow up. Literally.

The thought struck me suddenly after a lifetime of studying the racing pages. Why it took so long, I don't know. Perhaps a subliminal acceptance of the traditional ways of the horse racing community; trainers and owners ruling as they always have, with forelock-tugging little men ready to do their bidding and addressing their bosses as "Sir" or "Guvnor."

My realisation was this: in 1998 racehorses are still carrying tiny athletes, some of whom, despite lifestyle and nutritional advances, are still expected to perform their heroics weighing as little as 7st 10lb (or 7 10, as it appears on the race card).

The reason for this is straightforward enough: flat racing in this country insists on running handicaps with a weight range extending from 7st 10lb to 10st, thus ensuring that many jockeys find it compulsory to remain the size of Victorian chimney sweeps.

Surely it is time to recognise that racing's ancient ways should be banished to the darkest recesses of this century, so we can move into a new era where jockeys can weigh what they are supposed to without wasting themselves into fits of depression or worse.

Trainers will doubtless argue that their priceless charges (especially two-year-olds) should not be burdened by heavier jocks, but in the Derby, which is the championship race for three-year-olds, colts carry 9st and fillies 5lb less, proof that these huge, pampered beasts are more than capable of carrying something approaching a normal-sized human.

In handicaps, if a spread of 32lb is necessary, then what is wrong with a bottom-weight of 8st 7lb and a top-weight of 10st 11lb?

If horses running under National Hunt Rules can carry from 10st to 12st 7lb, surely their upper-class Flat-racing relatives can afford to carry a bit more and allow their riders to lead more normal lives instead of starving themselves.

Legend has it that the great Lester Piggott survived at his peak on a daily diet of lettuce and a cigar; fact has it that in recent years, brilliant jockeys like Steve Cauthen and Walter Swinburn have paid desperate personal prices for their attempts to keep their weight down. During their careers, both riders have endured separate crises involving alcohol and wasting; Cauthen has since retired, while Swinburn - who returned to the saddle this season after problems in 1997 - has encountered more difficulties with his weight, forcing him to finish early to help his comeback chances next year.

Len Gould

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