Jockeys Gather for International Conference
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Attendees at the International Conference on Health, Safety, and Welfare of Jockeys, including retired jockey Ramon Dominguez (center).

Representatives of jockeys' organizations from around the world gathered at Monmouth Park Sept. 13 for the first session of a two-day meeting of the International Conference on Health, Safety, and Welfare of Jockeys.

Medical professionals and jockey advocates discussed matters including insurance for jockeys riding overseas, research into concussions and spinal cord injuries, and setting minimum weights for apprentice jockeys.

And as is often the case at international racing gatherings, the differences between the United States and the rest of the world were striking.

In Ireland, Britain, France, and Australia, a central racing authority sets the minimum weight at which an apprentice jockey can ride in an attempt to minimize risky behaviors such as "flipping" (regurgitating), forgoing food and water, and sweating to the point of dehydration in order to make weight. Benoit le Masson, chief medical adviser of France Galop, told the participants that if a trainer tries to name a jockey at a weight below the minimum set for that individual, a pop-up notice on the screen will prevent the trainer from doing so. 

In contrast to those countries, Robert Colton, the director of the Delaware Jockeys' Association, presented what he called an "alternative view," He suggested that setting a minimum would not address the larger issues involved in jockey weight, such as the health of the riders; the issue of supply and demand for jockeys and horses, given the decline in horse population and number of starts per horse; and the inconsistency of procedures for weighing in and out in different racing jurisdictions. 

Colton suggested that there are more than enough riders who are able to make weights as they are currently set, and that a reduction in jockey colonies would be appropriate, given the reduction in racing starts. Although he did not discount setting a minimum weight, he posited that improving jockey nutrition and exercise habits should also be considered. 

One of the day's most detailed discussions centered on the issue of insurance for jockeys. Dennis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Turf Club and the conference chairman, put forth three proposals specifically relating to jockeys who travel to countries outside their home base to race. There is a critical need, said Egan, for jockeys to travel with insurance in the event that they are injured, if only so they have the resources to return to their home country. He called for racing jurisdictions to require as a condition of licensing that jockeys carry a minimum level of travel insurance; that they be required to maintain a minimum level of travel insurance; and that the minimum level should be agreed upon internationally.

While most of those present expressed support for the proposals, several participants declined to endorse them wholly, citing the lack of information about the availability of such insurance and its cost. 

Terry Meyocks, the national manager of the Jockeys' Guild, was among those who pressed for more information before endorsing the proposals, but he was unstinting in his criticism of jockeys' situation in this country, as compared to their international counterparts.

"We're behind the eight ball," he said, noting that several organizations that exist to support injured jockeys, such as The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, rely on fundraising initiatives and donations and lack a reliable, permanent funding stream. The need for such funding is illustrated, he said, by the case of paralyzed jockey Jacky Martin, whose medical expenses far exceed his resources and those provided to him by jockeys' organizations.

Meyocks also said that U.S. mount fees are lower than they are in the rest of the world, an assertion supported by Paul Struthers of Great Britain's Professional Jockeys Association.

"Our concerns [in Great Britain]," Struthers said, "pale in comparison [to those in the U.S.]."

The conference continues on Saturday with scheduled presentations on nutrition and hydration, synthetic surfaces, and safety equipment.  

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