The British Horseracing Authority has announced the scheduled 2lb rise in weights will go ahead as planned in May, but with jockeys being given a further 1lb to the current 3lb they get for back protectors as a “general safety allowance”.
The BHA first proposed the rise in bottom and top weights at the end of January, replacing the 3lb allowance given to jockeys as a temporary measure during the coronavirus pandemic to mitigate the closure of saunas and gyms, which potentially impacted their ability to manage their weight.
It was announced in November that saunas would be permanently removed from the weighing room, leaving riders to express frustration that they would lose both those facilities and the 3lb allowance, which they said had helped to improve their overall well-being.
Following further consultation between the BHA, the Professional Jockeys Association, National Trainers Federation and a number of Flat and jump jockeys, a compromise has been reached with the 2lb rise to be implemented on May 2, while also introducing an extra 1lb to the existing 3lb allowance for back protectors.
The BHA says the 2lb rise will apply in all but a handful of Pattern races, when is it deemed “there would be no obvious reason to apply the 2lb weights rise”. It will also review race conditions in novice weight-for-age events, particularly over jumps, with a view to managing the weights carried by young horses running under a penalty.
Work to ensure increased transparency for customers around the existence of the 4lb safety allowance is also planned, with the BHA concerned it could have “created a much greater discrepancy between published weights and what horses are actually carrying in Britain compared with elsewhere”.
Richard Wayman, the BHA’s chief operating officer, said: “I would like to thank the many people from within the weighing room who have spoken with us in recent weeks. This process has allowed us to consider further concerns which did not feature as part of the initial consultation.
“During these discussions, riders have stressed the psychological benefits that the Covid allowance provided in terms of allowing them to manage the natural fluctuations in their body weight that occur from day-to-day. Many have stated that retaining at least some of this flexibility is as important for their well-being as any rise in the weights.
“We also recognise, however, that the decision to introduce a temporary Covid allowance has had a number of other consequences. Customers rightly expect transparency and accurate information, and the allowance has meant that horses have been carrying nearly half a stone more than the weights published in race cards and what is recorded in historical records.
“In reaching this solution, we have sought to balance all of these considerations with horses continuing to carry what they have been carrying since June 2020. Raising the published weights as well as publicising the existence of the safety allowance means the public will be better informed and have a more accurate understanding of what horses are carrying. The extra 1lb safety allowance will also provide riders with some flexibility to manage daily variations in their body weight.”
The PJA said it would “remain proactive in recommending initiatives to improve jockey well-being”, with Flat president PJ McDonald looking forward to “moving on with the year ahead”.
National Hunt president David Bass added: “Naturally I would have preferred to keep the full allowance, as I have seen such a positive impact on jockeys’ well-being. however, after further discussion I am pleased that we have kept part of the allowance along with a rise in the weights.
“I trust that the new structure provides everyone with the same opportunities whilst maintaining recent progression on jockey welfare.”
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board will also increase its body protector allowance to 4lb in May, with saunas to be closed permanently for jockeys. Increased nutritional support and long-term development of individualised minimum riding weights for every rider, in consultation with the Jockeys Association, is also planned.
IHRB senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh said: “While this decision is a significant culture change for the jockeys, medical evidence regarding dehydration immediately before race riding and the longer term effects of weight management no longer support the methods previously used.
“Jockeys have adapted incredibly well over the last two years with the closure of the saunas for infection control purposes. The introduction of 48-hour declarations and the 2lb increase in the weights since March 2020, which was made permanent last December, were beneficial changes arising from the pandemic.
“However, it is clear from our research that a significant number of jockeys continue to dehydrate on race day to make weight and the increase in a safety allowance at the scales aims to reduce this along with ensuring appropriate riding equipment and racing tack can be used.”