Tag Archive for: jockeys

Professional Jockeys Association seeking ‘solutions’ in weights row

Officials at the Professional Jockeys Association are working towards “finding potential solutions” with the British Horseracing Authority in the dispute over a planned 2lb rise in handicap weights.

The BHA announced on Tuesday that a 2lb rise in bottom and top weights will be introduced in the spring, while also bringing to an end the 3lb allowance given to jockeys as a temporary measure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the resumption of racing following the first Covid lockdown, jockeys had been given an extra 3lb 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.

The BHA underlined on Wednesday the decision to increase weights whilst removing the 3lb allowance had been taken by a group with “cross-industry representation”, including the PJA.

Jamie Spencer is one of those hoping a compromise can be reached between the BHA and PJA
Jamie Spencer is one of those hoping a compromise can be reached between the BHA and PJA (Tim Goode/PA)

However, Dale Gibson, interim CEO of the PJA, believes there is room for further negotiation on the subject, with some riders expected to find it “challenging” to recalibrate their weights under the new system.

In a statement, he said: “The general feeling amongst jockeys has centred around the removal of the additional Covid allowance which was introduced prior to the resumption of racing in June 2020.

“That extra weight allowance has naturally proved popular; indeed, jockeys overall health and outlook has improved along with the benefits of the sauna being out of action.

“Most jockeys’ body weight, whilst remaining superbly fit athletes, has therefore adapted in line with that allowance over the preceding 19 months. They will have to reset their body weight to ride at their current individual minimum weight. Some will find that challenging.

“In an ideal world the ‘health allowance’ needs to continue, as the human welfare benefits are evident. We are in process of finding potential solutions with the BHA.”

A petition set up to campaign for the allowance to remain had been signed by over 1,500 people on Thursday morning.

Adam Kirby in winning action at Southwell aboard Symbol Of Light
Adam Kirby in winning action at Southwell aboard Symbol Of Light (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Derby-winning rider Adam Kirby feels the 3lb allowance should have been left unchanged and is hoping the decision will be overturned.

“It won’t be good for me, it won’t be good for anyone. I don’t get why the allowance was a problem in the first place,” he told Sky Sports Racing after partnering Symbol Of Light to victory at Southwell.

“I don’t get what they’ve achieved by taking it away from us. We were left completely in the dark about it and all of a sudden it’s jumped on you, which is wrong.

“I felt better with the allowance and 3lb is a massive help to us. It’s no hindrance at all to the horses. Track records have been broken, horses’ soundness is good.

“Just taking it away is completely wrong in my opinion and I don’t even know why it’s been brought in that way, but hopefully we’ll get that overturned.”

One-meeting rule for jockeys to continue this year and in 2022

Jockeys will continue to ride at one meeting per day throughout this year and next, after sending a “clear message” to the British Horseracing Authority that the majority of them are in favour of the arrangement.

The BHA and Professional Jockeys Association confirmed in a joint-statement that the protocol, initially introduced as part of measures to ensure racing’s safe return behind closed doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been extended through 2022.

The announcement follows a consultation with jockeys and industry stakeholders.

The BHA’s chief operating officer Richard Wayman said: “Jockeys played a key role in ensuring racing’s return in 2020 was a success, adapting to a new way of working in unusual circumstances while still producing at the highest level on the track.

Jockeys in action in the Ebor at York last week
Jockeys in action in the Ebor at York last week (Nigel French/PA)

“It is our job to do everything we can to ensure the welfare of our jockeys, and it has become clear over the last year that the overwhelming majority of jockeys appreciate no longer competing at multiple meetings per day, and having to contend with the physical and mental pressures this placed upon them.”

Dale Gibson, executive director of the PJA, said: “Horseracing is incredibly demanding on trainers, jockeys and racing staff – particularly given the size of the fixture list.

“When you factor in early-morning work, extensive mileage, financial uncertainty and the significant physical and mental challenges of being a jockey, it’s arguably the most challenging of professional sports for an athlete.

“The PJA conducted a comprehensive jockey welfare survey earlier this year, with almost half the membership responding.

“The one meeting a day rule was one area we asked members about. The clear message, particularly from Flat jockeys, was that there had been significant benefits to jockeys from the rule – which for most outweighed any negatives – and that the majority, including 72 per cent of Flat jockeys, wanted the rule to remain.

“Based on the survey results, the PJA board had no hesitation in asking the BHA to take this step, and I am sure that the vast majority of the membership will be pleased that it remains in place throughout 2022.”

PJA joint-president PJ McDonald added: “I am very pleased that the one meeting protocol has been extended, and believe strongly that it will benefit the long-term physical and mental health of riders competing today and in the future.

“This will allow us to achieve a better work-life balance, which is so important – whatever your profession.”

Former champion jockey Jim Crowley is among those to have welcomed the announcement.

“I think it’s good – a pity we didn’t do it years ago,” he told Sky Sports Racing.

“In this day and age, there’s so much traffic on the roads now.

Jim Crowley has backed the continuation of the 'one-meeting' rule for jockeys
Jim Crowley has backed the continuation of the ‘one-meeting’ rule for jockeys (Tim Goode/PA)

“I tried to get up to Haydock last week, and it took me seven hours! The volume of traffic is just increasing …

“I’m glad it’s worked out. Everybody is getting a chance – because if you might not be able to go to to one meeting, somebody picks up those rides.

“I think it’s a big plus for jockeys.”

‘It needs to stop’ – Saffie Osborne speaks out on social media abuse

Saffie Osborne has spelled out that action must be taken to stop hateful and threatening messages being sent to jockeys and other racing professionals.

Osborne was speaking for the first time since her father Jamie contacted the police after she received a message containing distressing content this week.

The apprentice jockey was initially unsure whether her father, the Lambourn-based trainer, had done the right thing by reporting the issue to the police.

But in an interview on Sky Sports Racing, she made it clear that on reflection she fully supports his decision – not just on her behalf, but for the many others who continue to receive similarly abusive messages.

“I probably wouldn’t ever take this stuff to heart, I never do – I’m pretty thick skinned, I’d like to think,” she said.

“I kind of have a tendency to laugh it off – but I sent it to to dad, half laughing at it (and) thinking it was kind of pathetic that someone would take their time to send you that sort of message.

“He then, rightly so, took it a bit more seriously than I did.”

A police investigation is consequently under way, and she added: “From a personal point of view, this isn’t what I wanted to happen – but looking at the bigger picture now, it probably was the right thing to happen because it’s really shone a light on the situation.

“It’s not about the message that I was sent – it’s about the fact that every single jockey in the weighing room gets sent messages like that on a daily basis.

“I think it’s good that it has really shone a light on it – it needs to stop.

“In any other walk of life, when would being sent a death threat be okay?

“I think just because you’re a jockey or a sportsperson, why should it be okay to be sent a death threat – basically saying you deserve nothing more in life than ending up in a box in the ground?”

Caulfield tells of mental health challenges facing modern riders

Physical danger, online criticism, hunger and career uncertainty prescribe a uniquely challenging life as a professional jockey.

Just this week, events have exemplified the spectre of serious injury in a jockey’s everyday work, as Alistair Rawlinson broke his ankle and four ribs after his horse and another fell at Windsor.

Rawlinson is expected to need surgery and be out of action for a protracted time, while his colleague George Buckell was cleared of serious injury after X-rays in hospital following the same incident.

Alistair Rawlinson suffered broken bones in a fall at Windso
Alistair Rawlinson suffered broken bones in a fall at Windsor (Mike Egerton/PA)

Few will have needed the reminder that jockeys must accept the routine reality of danger – yet that is just one of several facts of their working life which place an inevitable mental, as well as physical, burden on them.

Michael Caulfield is expertly qualified to assess the potential strains and pitfalls for racing’s human athletes, having spent 15 years up to 2003 as the Professional Jockeys Association chief executive before switching careers to train as a sports psychologist.

Renowned in that profession, helping high-profile participants in many sports, among the pressure points for jockeys he cites the certainty of injury, fasting to achieve a racing weight – especially on the Flat – exhausting hours on the road and the universal, modern phenomenon of “awful online abuse”.

Jockeys are unguarded prey to the latter, for example from punters venting after losing bets, but there are other aspects of their precarious profession which do not apply in the majority of sports.

Caulfield said: “If you play in a team sport, there’s a good chance you have a contract and there’s a good chance that it’s one year, two years, three, maybe four or five even.

“So you know where your career is taking you.

“I think as a jockey you simply don’t know what’s going to happen that afternoon. The vast majority, take the odd one out, they’re all self-employed and their only income comes from the next ride they have or the next winner they have.

“So there is that massive uncertainty, because they have no employment protection.

“Even as a tennis player, if you qualify for the French Open, you get paid; if you qualify for Wimbledon, you get paid.

“I’ve known golfers who’ve not won a single event but are paid a wonderful income. With a jockey, that simply isn’t the case.”

It is tempting to depict a ruthless variant of a ‘zero-hours contract’ – with the constant threat of physical danger attached, for good measure, among other perils.

“As we know – which is why I’m a trustee of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund – riding a racehorse is not the safest occupation in the world,” added Caulfield.

“So injury is going to happen – not might happen, it is going to happen. There’s simply no way it’s not going to happen.

“Then there’s the travelling, which is huge – you’re not on a team coach, there’s no coach driver. You’re doing it yourself all the time.

“With very few exceptions, particularly on the Flat, they can’t eat normally – and that will send you crazy if you’re not careful.

Jockeys travel many thousands of miles every year and must adhere to strict diets and sometimes fasting regimes to keep rides
Jockeys travel many thousands of miles every year and must adhere to strict diets and sometimes fasting regimes to keep rides (David Davies/PA)

“It has in the past – starting with Fred Archer – and it will in the future.

“When you can’t eat, it makes you grumpy – a lot.”

The demoralising impact so often felt by unmoderated social-media criticism is, of course, a newer evil.

“I think if you work in sport, or the public arena of life, you are just going to have to learn to deal with this wretched online criticism,” said Caulfield.

“It is just a fact of life.

“We’re all advised and told ‘make a name for yourself’, but with that comes the downside, which is this awful online abuse, which does exist.”

Caulfield’s watchword with clients is to work with the individual rather than dispense pre-determined advice for all – but he advocates sparing exposure to social media if in any distress.

He said: “If you listen to people who simply want to scream and shout at you, and are abusive to you, it’s finding a way to say ‘I will not look at that’, which takes real willpower.

“If someone in your inner circle, someone close to you, is criticising you – or offering help to you – that’s different.

“If it’s just an angry person they are to be ignored, but that is easier said than done.

“It’s like a skill, like learning a language, playing a musical instrument – you have to practise daily how much time you spend online and what you look at online.

“We live online – so how much time you choose to spend online is vital to your wellbeing.”

Those who decide to turn off the sound and fury are often rewarded with a better quality of life.

Caulfield added: “I can tell you without any hesitation the number of athletes, from all sports – particularly in team sports, particularly at the highest level, international or club – they have actually decided to live their lives offline in terms of looking at how they are viewed (there).

“They’ve just abandoned it, abandoned their accounts, and they’ve simply stopped going online in terms of people talking about them.

“Guess what? To a man and woman, they’re all happier.

“It doesn’t mean to say they don’t know what’s going on in the world, they don’t follow their sport, their career. They just don’t choose to look at people calling them an absolute ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ if they make a mistake.”

He has high praise for effective intervention from sports’ governing bodies – but without reaching for the off-switch, warns there is no hiding place from the juggernaut of social media, malevolent or otherwise.

Former champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody was one of the first people to make Michael Caulfield aware of the importance of sports psychologists
Former champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody was one of the first people to make Michael Caulfield aware of the importance of sports psychologists (John Stilwell/PA)

“No, none, absolutely none – and that’s why we must develop new habits so we don’t just continually live our lives scrolling through criticism and people ranting,” he said.

“I think the umbrella organisations are doing miraculous jobs in educating young people and young athletes. It’s not as if there isn’t information there – it’s your choice as to what you choose to look at.”

He will continue to help jockeys and others mitigate the problems – because that goes to the heart of why he changed his own professional direction in the first place, having heard former champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody voice thanks to his sports psychologist on winning the title back in the 1990s.

“I’d seen the Flat and jump jockeys go through what I would call a lot of physical and mental hardship – just to keep working and keep riding,” said Caulfield, who recently formed a partnership with JSC Communications – representatives of the biggest names in racing including Ryan Moore, Paul Nicholls and Hollie Doyle.

“Even though I was their chief executive, in charge of pensions and insurance and legal representation and all the formal things, I think, deep down, I was terribly interested in their emotional well-being as well.

“I think that’s why they got to like me, and vice-versa.”