Ignoring a warning from a Jockeys' Guild attorney that it is taking "a death crawl towards nothing," the California Horse Racing Board declined to increase the minimum amount of weight a horse must carry.
Instead, the board sent the issue out for a third 45-day public comment period with new recommendations for the weight scale that were proposed during its April 28 meeting at Hollywood Park by Del Mar Thoroughbred Club vice president Craig Fravel.
That plan would increase the minimum scale of weights to 118 pounds for races restricted to 2- , 3- and 4-year-olds; to 112 for 3-years and up; and 110 for handicaps and stakes. The new standards do not include allowance for jockey equipment.
That's a far cry from the 126-pound minimum weight sought by the Jockeys' Guild, which would have included 10 pounds of rider equipment, making the minimum weight for a jockey in most Thoroughbred races 116 pounds.
"This proposal will move California into a leadership position with regard to to minimum weights but leaves those minimums at a level which we are hoepful will not jeopardize our competitive position versus other major racing states," Fravel said.
Speaking on behalf of the industry, Fravel suggested new rules that would repeal the previous scale while instituting a scientific study of jockey weight standards. That would include working with owners, trainers and jockey representatives to conduct a comprehensive health and weight survey. He also said the Racing Commissioners International should begin development of a national rule that would include jockey equipment in the official weights as listed in programs and develop a national procedure for weighing in and out.
Barry Broad, an attorney for the Jockeys' Guild, said the board was ignoring a "serious public health problem" by delaying implementation of the Guild's proposal.
"You should vote on it today one way or another," he said. "If the weights are too low for human beings to objectively make ... and you know that they are, people do what they have to do to make a living."
The CHRB was clearly concerned about taking a step that would put California out on a limb. The state already lacks enough horses to fill many of its races adequately. But on the motion by commissioner Richard Shapiro, it was willing to begin a public comment period on new rules as suggested by Fravel and a further hearing this summer. The board first began examining jockey weights at the guild's behest last July.
"To survive and do well, we have to have a national consensus" on jockey weights, said commissioner Jerry Moss. "I don't believe California, in its isolated situation, should be taking chances."
Shapiro said the important thing was to eliminate unhealthy practices such as "flipping" in order to make weight.
"Some jockeys can ride light and some can't," he conceded.
Broad called the proposal "a cosmetic increase in weight" and inadequate. He noted that the Guild has legislation introduced in the California Assembly making its way through committees that would force the industry to adopt a relaxed weight standard.
"You've got a sick population of jockeys today," Broad told the board. "The responsibilty of this board is to that jockey population today."
But the Guild was up against the full force of the industry on this one -- trainers, owners and racing associations -- all of whom professed concern about the health of their riders while saying the 126-pound minimum weight and an accompanying rule requiring male jockeys to compete with a minimum of 5% body fat was an arbitrary standard that didn't guarantee the health of jockeys.
Dr. Dan Benardot, nutritionist for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team and author of "Nutrition for Serious Athletes," provided support for Fravel's recommendations.
Fravel said the new suggested weight scale conforms with changes racing secretaries voluntarily undertook in January.
Trainer John Sadler said that after meetings with jockeys, "It was my feeling that this is not the crisis Mr. Broad says it is."
The rules would require a jockey to file a certification of fitness based on a qualified medical examination and prohibit the use of laxatives, diuretics, amphetamines and excessive food or fluid restriction, including self-induced vomiting.