Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.auBy Robert Heathcote | Thursday, February 3, 2011
Robert Heathcote is the leading racehorse trainer in Brisbane. 'Rob's Shout' - the personal blog of the premiership winning trainer will appear every Thursday on HRO.There has been a recent change to the minimum riding weights in New Zealand of 1kilo which was effective on the 1st of February this year.This has been a debatable issue for as long as I can remember or at least since I have been involved in thoroughbred horse racing. This is a decision which I as a horse trainer fully endorse and a measure which I believe should also be adopted right throughout Australia.I am a bit surprised to be honest that the Jockeys association have not seized upon the NZTR initiative to push the case here in Australia.The decision was made to enhance the welfare and health of arguably one of the most important aspects of our industry, our jockeys. Advice was provided by the NZTR's Medical Advisor Dr Phil White. It showed the weight of the general population had risen by about 5 percent in the last decade which equated to about 2.6 kgs for a 52kg rider.Now I do not know the exact statistics for Australia or whether studies have been done. We do know our friends across the Tasman do like a good feed, but I don't imagine this countries statistics would be that much different.Dr White added, 'In effect, no change to the minimum riding weight would increase risks to the health and safety of riders, particularly through dehydration with sweating, fluid restriction and the illegal use of diuretics to achieve short term weight loss. The increase in weights will produce more riders who are healthier and who can ride regularly at the top of their game, with less risk to themselves and others'.The argument is there of course that with the minimum weights being increased, so too will the maximum weights. This will mean that the current accepted level of 58 kilos as the standard minimum top weight would now increase to 59 kilos or even 60 kilos.There will be those who say that this may increase the risk of injury to the horses. That may well be the case, but personally I equate this to the restrictions that came into the car racing sport a number of years ago.
Technology over the last few decades has seen the Formula One racing cars reach dangerously high speeds with designers using new car designs to produce incredible down force to 'push' them onto the road surface.The authorities and governing bodies, or the 'rule makers', decided to restrict the use of this technology, in effect slowing the cars down and thereby making it safer. I believe increasing the minimum top weights will have the same effect with the horses. It will slow them down and contrary to increasing the risks of injury, I believe it can have the opposite effect and make it safer. In fact I would not be opposed to seeing the minimum weights go up 2 kilos and the minimum top weight rise to 60 kilos!The argument will always come from those who say that many years ago the minimum weight was 47 kilos and that is true.However, times have changed and society has evolved where we are simply 'bigger'. I do know there is a severe shortage of new, young riders coming into the industry and there must be concerns for the future?Exit interviews with young riders and apprentices leaving the industry invariably show that the number one reason for leaving the industry are weight issues.In my role as a horse trainer, I see jockeys on a regular basis doing it tough to meet their weight requirements.Middle of summer and wearing sweat jackets and garbage bags in an effort to squeeze those lose few ounces from their bodies. 2010 will always be remembered as a tragic year where we lost Stathi Katsidis.Just four days before Stathi's death, he gave an insight into the battle his body faced on a daily basis to stay in peak trim.In the context of the minimum riding weight debate, it is certainly relevant to recall Stathi’s words here. Properly interpreted they stand as a warning and the message is quite clear.In his personal blog posted on horseracingonly.com.au, Stathi wrote,' As far as my own staying power is concerned, riding so much last season did take its toll on my body. Absolutely.'Race days I need 3 to 5 hours for weight preparation before the races and 2 hours after for body recovery as well as weight preparation for the following day'.'My natural body weight is 58 to 60 kilos when I am fit and healthy'.‘People see me riding 53 and even 52 kgs and think why can't he ride my horse this week at that weight'.'Like most jockeys, my natural weight is about ten percent higher than the riding weights. So all year around I have to stay on a sensible diet to keep my weight around the 55/56 kilos and I then sweat in the bath to make the weight I have to ride at.''I take various different vitamins to keep me at my strongest'!'You can only keep your body that low for so long. I was able to do it for 12 months and I've given my body that little bit of a break now'!We are now only too aware that a short time later Stathi died in tragic circumstances. Whist I am not blaming this never ending battle with weight issues for Stathi's death, I have little doubt that it was a major contributing factor to the delicate state of his body at the time.Graham Potter, writing on horseracingonly, put this argument at the time, ‘Can we now ask the question? Can we turn Stathi's death into a positive for the future of the racing industry and the welfare of our nations jockeys?‘The answer lies in the Jockey Club’s willingness, or otherwise, to take new evidence on the lifestyle they force upon jockeys.‘In almost every other aspect of life, political correctness has become the order of the day protecting rights to a ridiculous level. So why not bring some of that focus and emphasis to a subject which can benefit from the outcome.‘Let’s talk about raising riding weights!’I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.I understand that raising riding weights is not an uncomplicated matter, but surely it is time to evaluate its pros and cons of the issue, especially as our neighbours across the Tasman have now taken the initiative!I have personally worked hard this past few months to lose some excess weight in order to live a healthier lifestyle. I have the excess weight to lose and I know how hard it can be.Most jockeys do not have the natural 'excess' body weight to lose thereby making it 'unnatural and certainly very unhealthy.At jump outs and barrier trials we predominantly use riders and saddle gear which see horses often carry in excess of 60 kilos.Weight For Age Racing regularly sees our best horses carry 59 kilos and the question about injuries due to the high weights do not arise.My previous blog was about how we should control or maybe even eradicate the use of the whip in horse racing, but jockeys still have to commit themselves to unhealthy, unnatural lifestyles to have half a chance of making a decent living.So, let's talk about raising riding weights across the board and give the jockeys, who are as vital a cog in the wheel as any other part of the racing industry, improved conditions in which to ply their trade.
Website Designed By