Riding Weight Bill Amended in California

After meeting with state racing industry executives, the national Jockeys' Guild has amended California legislation originally designed to establish heavier minimum riding weights in favor of setting parameters for a national peer review study of jockey health issues.

The amended bill was announced during a progress report on the jockey weight issue provided to the California Horse Racing Board at a meeting at Del Mar on July 21.

Barry Broad, an attorney who represents the Jockeys' Guild, said afterward that the changes were made to AB 1180 because of disagreements within the Guild, as well as in the racing industry, as to what the new minimum weight should be.

"But there were other things in the bill that we wanted to advance, having to do with pay and working condition issues," Broad said of Assemblyman Alberto Torrico's legislation. "And it was important to get the study codified as well."

Craig Fravel, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, is working with Broad on the conceptual portion of the study. He called the amended bill "one we can all support."

Broad said the jockeys want a reasonable minimum riding weight, but also want a standard that the rest of the industry will accept. "California does not really want to be out there on its own," he said. "A national consensus would be more acceptable."

In order to get to that point, though, Broad said a thorough scientific study is necessary. He pointed to a recent analysis performed for the Irish Jockey Club that pointed to the physical problems suffered by its jockey test group due to the long-term effects of dehydration, including a lack of bone density. As a result of that study, Irish officials are expected to significantly increase the minimum riding weights.

He told the board that the peer review study is being designed to "take a snapshot" of jockey health conditions that regulators can use to make policy decisions.

Broad said he believes that the CHRB, which began to consider the issue of jockey weight in March 2004, supports a healthier jockey colony.

Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, and Drew Couto, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, are also involved in the initial phase of the study.

Once the extent of the study and costs are determined, Fravel said he intends to seek funding from organizations such as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Churchill Downs Inc., and the New York Racing Association.

After a couple of attempts to set a new minimum scale of weights, California racing commissioners voted in April to endorse a scientific review that would help establish a national standard set by racing associations and horsemen. The state's racing secretaries and others objected to the minimum weights suggested by the the Jockeys' Guild, and Fravel noted that the new scale was being undertaken without benefit of scientific data. He was particularly critical of a provision that would require male jockeys to maintain a 5% body fat level because of doubts about the accuracy of the equipment that would be used to determine the level.

Fravel said the purpose of the study is to "address this issue nationally on a scientific basis" and that, as a peer-review study, occupational health officials and other experts in related health fields will scrutinize the study to determine its scientific validity.

Chairman John Harris suggested that better physical examinations for jockeys be conducted, especially after they are returning from injuries, to assure they are indeed fit to resume riding.

Commissioner Richard Shapiro said he has been in contact with the Association of Racing Commissioners International to generate support from other regulators for the national study.

In other business, the Board heard presentations from three totalizator companies outlining new wagering technology available to the horse-racing industry. Representatives of Scientific Games Racing, AmTote, and United Tote each provided graphic descriptions of modern, user-friendly wagering terminals and secure data processing systems, including wireless betting terminals that allow patrons to wager from their seats.

Scientific Games currently provides the totalizator services for all California racetracks and wagering facilities. Its five-year contract expires in September of 2006. All three totalizator companies expressed interest in the new contract, which will be negotiated with the racing associations.