The Irish Outsider – August 28th, 2013
The Turf Club’s institution of minimum weights for apprentices has been one of the most interesting off-track developments of the year and praise must go to Doctors Adrian McGoldrick and Giles Warrington for their forward-thinking approach to dealing with wasting among apprentice jockeys.
The new rules can be briefly summed up as follows: after a series of tests to ascertain body fat percentage while ensuring the young jockeys are in a fully hydrated state, the doctors will decide on a healthy weight below which the apprentice cannot ride and follow this up with meetings between the jockeys and dietitians to ensure their diet is correct.
Should the jockey wish to appeal their assigned weight, they can be reassessed at monthly intervals.
One gets the impression that this is something McGoldrick would ultimately like to bring in with the senior riders as well as to Britain in time and this brings up a number of interesting issues, both specific and general.
To deal with the specifics first, Colin Keane, widely regarded as one of the young stars of the Irish scene, has come out badly of the whole thing with an assigned weight of 8-11 which when you take his 5lbs claim into account means he cannot ride at lighter than 9-2, and Keane has already commented on how he has missed out on rides because of this.
With someone like Keane we generally read over his comments in the paper and forget about them as his profile isn’t high but would we do the same with Joseph O’Brien if it such rules came into force for senior riders? You’d have to imagine that Joseph would be on pretty dangerous ground were similar rules applied as he’s a big lad and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to alter one’s body chemistry; if ten and a half stone is your healthy weight, then so be it.
Remember, this is a jockey who can’t make the weight on 3yos in weight-for-age Group 1 races at this time of year as we saw with Ryan Moore taking the mount on Venus De Milo last week though it may be that by maintaining a steady weight rather than wasting to reach an unattainable low, he could be prolonging his career in place of short-term gain.
When the minimum weights for flat races were raised by the Turf Club in 2012, there were some conspiratorial murmurings that it had been driven by the Ballydoyle to assist Joseph in his riding career but were the Turf Club to introduce these rules across the board it would give the lie to such beliefs.
There is of course the argument that such rules should only apply to the younger riders and there is plenty of merit in that as many of our apprentices are secondary school age and the authorities have a duty to care to them. Young people are often exploited in sport; soccer player may find themselves on the scrap-heap without education after failing to come through a club’s youth programme while many a young tennis player is burnt out before their teens end and racing wants to avoid this.
But it is different with the senior riders, adults as they are. Perhaps suffering, and in flat racing at least this tends to take the part of wasting and not eating rather than injury, is simply part of sport. Boxers have to train and diet to make weight for a fight while cyclists do similar as anyone who has read some of the harrowing chapters of Tyler Hamilton’s autobiography ‘The Secret Race’ will know as the cyclist survives on little more than carbonated water post training.
Yet with jockeys, the dieting is so prolonged. Boxers have a fight but then they can let loose while a jockey can rarely do so and we often hear anecdotal evidence of riders barely eating (or even drinking, as liquids have weight too) at all. Can we really expect top sportspeople to perform without proper nutrition? As someone who really likes food, I imagine it as the worst kind of hell though that may say more about my own lily liver than anything.
That said, I’d almost consider raising the weights en masse; why not hike the minimum weight to ten stone and open the whole thing up? This wouldn’t appeal to the ‘no pain, no gain’ supporters and it would certainly throw handicap marks, ratings and times out of kilter but it would also be a jockey welfare move for the ages. We are living in a time when humankind is only getting bigger due to better nutrition and healthcare so perhaps the time for this will eventually come though it seems a world away.
Futurity Day at the Curragh provided some classy racing last Saturday though I called the big race totally wrong in opposing War Command; time may show that this wasn’t the best renewal of the race behind the winner but he was impressive in how he travelled and picked up and was a different horse to the one that ran in the Phoenix.
There were other pointers on the card. Terrific defied a market drift to win the opener easily; she is an under-the-radar filly that should prove up to group class. The English unsurprisingly dominated the Flying Five where My Propeller was a big eye-catcher; he travelled best to the furlong pole when he had to be snatched up and looked unlucky.
Abstraction is another to take from the race; he improved from his Tipperary run to the tune of 10lbs and got amongst the older raiders, looking like a young sprinter to follow, that he is trained by a low-profile yard only heightening his appeal.
Nero Emperor was clearly the unlucky one in the 6f handicap; held up last, had to switch sides when pulling double, jockey nearly fell off with hampered a furlong out, flew home, though optimism about him should be leavened with the fact that he rarely wins.
For my money Sassaway is the one to take from the race; this effort may suggest the handicapper has her but the way she travelled through the race says otherwise and this sort of cruising speed is valuable in sprints.