Understandably, connections of a racehorse would want the lightest weight possible on their back to give it the best chance of winning, however these weight limits have forced abrupt ends to many jockey’s careers of late. For example, Will Featherstone, being the most recent of the jockey’s to become a victim of the relentless weighing scales. Will, aged 23, said to the Racing Post that “I could turn back amateur but I’d have the same problem again. You’re not really going to make any money riding, so there doesn’t seem much point.” Featherstone still rides out for Jamie Snowden but will cease to ride on the track. I believe that sometimes, as viewers of the sport, we forget that these jockeys have to voluntarily make themselves sick in order to be a certain weight to ride. This is no way for anyone to make their living as it puts, not only a physical strain on the body, but a mental strain too. I can only imagine the exhaustion this must cause. The thing is, it’s not only induced vomiting that is happening to lower one’s body weight, jockeys are also inclined to starve themselves. This seems silly as riders need to have a strong, stable diet in order to have the strength to control a half-ton animal, but some jockeys have to resort to limiting their eating right down to one or no meal a day.
In April, Dale Swift called time on his career after missing a ride at Lingfield and failing to explain why. He later said that weight-related issues had left him feeling “miserable” and “depressed”. Swift explained that all the days he spent in sweat suits with heaters on everywhere and all the times he had to physically make himself sick were put into perspective on the morning of the Lingfield ride he went on to miss. He said to the Racing Post that “my head just wasn’t in the game anymore,” and, realistically, who can blame him?
31 year old, Steven Clements, who partnered Oiseau De Nuit to win the Grand Annual Chase in 2011, called time on his race-riding career a few days ago, despite not having ridden since mid-October. Clements was keen to express the fact that he had been suffering physically to make the weight for some of his rides and, therefore, it took a huge toll on his mental health as well. Steven enjoyed many successes in his career but still recalled that even on his first ride, at the age of 16, he had to sweat profusely to make the correct weight. This kind of commitment is becoming rarer and rarer as more and more jockeys are becoming less tolerant and/or willing to comply with the weight restrictions these days.
Even the flat racing legend himself- Frankie Dettori, admitted he had a battle with the scales when trying to weigh in at 8st 7lbs for his ride on the superstar 3yr old, Enable, in the Queen Elizabeth this summer. He managed to make this weight but you could only imagine the determination Dettori must have shown to ride his favourite mare. These weight systems are simply too harsh. Something must be done or else we will continue to see people like Will Featherstone, Dale Swift and Steven Clements drop out of the racing picture. All too often we forget that, for these jockeys, race-riding is their life and source of income. As a racing community, I feel that we do very little to help them out and give back what they put in daily. It’s easy to watch a race and get angry if your horse doesn’t win you money, but this lack of compassion shown in the industry will be the reason that kids no longer want to grow up to be jockeys.
We are simply now just waiting for a crucial change.