The decision on whether to raise the scale of weights in California to a minimum of 118 pounds, not including equipment, remained on hold after more than two hours of discussion during the California Horse Racing Board's monthly meeting held Thursday at Del Mar.
The meeting was attended by virtually every member of the Southern California jockey colony, as well as more than two dozen trainers. But despite the lengthy discussion, the decision won't come until at least next month's CHRB meeting after the board decided to do further research into statistics in areas such as body fat and horse breakdowns.
Barry Broad, counsel for the Jockeys' Guild, emphasized that the group's proposed three-point plan needs to be implemented as soon as possible for the best interests of all jockeys in general. In addition to raising the minimum weight to 118 pounds (fully stripped), jockeys must maintain a minimum body fat percentage of 5%, which would be checked daily. Also, every horse would carry 10 additional pounds of riding gear, including the saddle and all jockey equipment/clothing over and above the minimum weight. Jockeys currently riding and licensed before 2004 will be under a grandfather clause under the Guild‚s plan.
"The proposal is like a stool," Broad said. "If any one leg gets kicked out from underneath it just won't work. All parts have to work together to create a system for good jockey health. Because jockeys are superb athletes they look great, but what theyre doing to their bodies produces serious health consequences."
Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, now vice president and general manager of Santa Anita Park, is in favor of raising the scale of weights, but said he isn't in favor of the Jockeys' Guild proposal. McCarron said he supports extensive dialog to come up with a proposal that's "meaningful." He noted that Magna Entertainment, the parent company of Santa Anita, as well as Churchill Downs Inc., and the New York Racing Association have gotten together as a group to come up with a proposal the entire industry can live with, which could feasibly be reached by Jan. 1.
Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows medical director David Seftel outlined the many health issues jockeys face when having to reduce weight, including kidney and liver failure, diabetes and malnutrition.
"There's a choice before the board that is, quite simply, do we mandate malnutrition?" Septel said. "There's a certain level of risk jockeys are willing to accept and they profit by the risk they take but an acceptable risk is not kidney failure and diabetes."
Academy Award-winning composer Burt Bacharach was the first to speak in support of raising the jockey weights by reading three letters from three sports medicine physicians outlining the health risks and long-term problems many jockeys face both during their careers and after they retire from riding.
More than a half-dozen trainers spoke, including Janine Sahadi, Henry Moreno, Ron Ellis, Cliff Sise, John Shirreffs and Kathy Walsh and all expressed that while they support a small increase in the scale of weights and a minimum standard for body fat, the Guild's proposed base weight of 118 far exceeds what's in the best interests of the horses.
"I wanted to be a jockey but I couldn't make the weight so I chose to be an exercise rider and then a trainer," Warren Stute said. "If (jockeys) can't make the weight then they need to find another occupation"
"I speak on behalf of the horse," trainer James Cassidy said. "And carrying (weight) is not in the best interests of the horses."
Dr. Rick Arthur expressed his reservations about increasing weight, saying that the absolute minimum effect the weight change has on horses would be an increase in injury.
"When a horse goes down, there's a greater risk to a jockey than weight," Arthur said.
The board is expected to revisit the issue at next month's meeting.
In other CHRB business, the board failed to approve Thoroughbred racing dates in both Northern and Southern California, thanks to two six-day weeks in January and February.
Citing a question of mirroring Southern California dates, a decision on Northern California dates was put on hold until September, after the board has been presented with handle statistics on racing conducted at one facility while others in the state are dark.